The Winter Classic may have received all the hype, but few regular season games will have more importance than Wednesday night when the Blackhawks welcome the NHL points leading San Jose Sharks to the United Center.
"It'll be a good test, a huge game we gotta be up and ready for," Hawks defenseman Brent Seabrook said.
On Sunday the Hawks (38-22-11, 87 pts) broke their five game winless streak.
"We needed a win for our confidence across the board and we can use this confidence going into our next game to build some momentum," Coach Joel Quenneville said at the postgame presser.
The Hawks can feel good knowing they just beat a California team (L.A. Kings) that like the Sharks, allows very few shots on goals. San Jose allows the fewest shots per game (27.4) in the league and L.A. is second at 27.6. Chicago managed 32 shots on Los Angeles.
Currently, San Jose is seeded first and Chicago fourth in the Western Conference. Both will be favored to win their first round match-up, and possibly meet in the Conference Semifinals.
Right now these Sharks are causing more excitement in San Jose than the latest Intel microprocessor. Ok, maybe there isn't a ton of stuff to do in Silicon Valley, but the local NHL team currently dominates the league in the same manner San Jose-based companies dominate the Nasdaq.
Center Patrick Marleau is the league's fourth leading goal scorer and Joe Thornton is 5th in assists. Both are among the top 20 in scoring, complementing their top line defensemen, Dan Boyle and Rob Blake, who rank 5th and 14th respectively among scoring leaders for defense.
San Jose is also very adept at scoring short-handed goals or "shorties" as they're known colloquially. With representation near the top of every short-handed scoring category, people following the Sharks have gotten to utter the phrase "shorty" about as often as Nelly, Lil Jon, or T-Pain.
And if this team wasn't complete enough, there's goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, who's 2nd in the league in wins and third in shutouts. He handles opposing offenses about as poetically and dominantly as the Russian novelist sharing his name handled intricate wordplay and descriptive detail.
It's gonna be a good one tonight.