It's Super Bowl weekend, but there are also many exciting NHL matchups for sports fans to enjoy before the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens play for the Lombardi Trophy on Sunday night.
No team has played 10 games yet, but a lot of players and coaches are under pressure to start winning games or major roster moves and coaching changes could soon be made.
Let's look at the four NHL games that every sports fan should watch during Super Bowl weekend.
Chicago Blackhawks (6-0-1) at Vancouver Canucks (3-2-2)
When: Friday, Feb. 1 at 10 p.m. ET
Watch: TSN, CSN-Chicago, RDS
The best game of the weekend will take place in Vancouver on Friday when the Chicago Blackhawks take on the rival Canucks for the first time this season.
These teams did not play in the playoffs last year after meeting in the postseason three straight times before that, but you should expect a playoff-like atmosphere at Rogers Arena on Friday night.
The last game between these two teams was in March of last year when Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith elbowed Canucks star Daniel Sedin.
As a result of the hit, Keith was suspended for five games and Sedin suffered a concussion and wasn't able to return until the Canucks' first-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Kings.
The performances of the starting goaltenders will likely determine the winner of this game.
Roberto Luongo will start for the Canucks and he has shone this season with a 1.61 GAA and .938 save percentage. Corey Crawford will start in net for the Blackhawks and he is an early-season Vezina Trophy candidate. His impressive play in goal is one of the main reasons why Chicago has started the season so well.
This battle between two fierce Western Conference rivals has the potential to be the most physical and exciting game of the first two weeks of the 2013 season.
New York Rangers (3-4) at Tampa Bay Lightning (5-1)
When: Saturday, Feb. 2 at 7 p.m. ET
Watch: MSG Plus
The Rangers-Lightning game on Saturday will likely be the highest-scoring game of the weekend, with superstar forwards such as Rick Nash, Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik, Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos all playing well to start the season.
Tampa Bay leads the NHL in goals scored and has three players in the top 15 in scoring (St. Louis, Stamkos and rookie Cory Conacher). The Lightning are atop the Southeast Division standings, but have only one win against a team currently in a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
New York enters this game following an embarrassing 3-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday and the team is not playing good hockey.
As you can see from the chart below, the Rangers have struggled a bit in four important categories through seven games.
|Stat||Goals For||Goals Against||Power Play||Penalty Kill|
The team that gets the most production from its second line will win this game. Both teams have two of the best top lines in the NHL, but second-line scoring could be the difference in what should be a high-scoring, fast-paced game.
Boston Bruins (5-1-1) at Toronto Maple Leafs (4-3)
When: Saturday, Feb. 2 at 7 p.m. ET
Watch: CBC, NESN, RDS, NHL Network (USA only)
For the first time, Bruins forward Tyler Seguin and defenseman Dougie Hamilton will play in an NHL game against Toronto Maple Leafs star Phil Kessel.
Boston traded Kessel to Toronto three years ago for two first-round picks and a second-round pick, and those first-rounders (No. 2 and 9 overall) were used to take Seguin and Hamilton, who have the potential to be franchise cornerstones. It has been one of the most controversial and debated trades of the last decade.
Surprisingly, Kessel and Seguin have both struggled this season. The Leafs star has gone seven games without scoring a goal to start a season for the first time in his career and the Bruins winger just has an empty-net goal on his stat sheet through seven games.
The Leafs went 0-6 against the Bruins last year and were dominated by the toughness and physical play that Boston brings to the ice each game. The Bruins outscored the Leafs 36-10 last season and embarrassed their Northeast Division rivals with 6-2, 7-0 and 8-0 victories.
This is a statement game for the Leafs at the Air Canada Centre because, if this team is going to make the playoffs, going 0-6 against the Bruins cannot happen.
Expect an amazing atmosphere in Toronto on Saturday night.
Pittsburgh Penguins (4-3) at Washington Capitals (1-5-1)
When: Sunday, Feb. 3 at 12:30 p.m. ET
Watch: NBC, RDS
There are only four NHL games on the schedule for Super Bowl Sunday, but the NBC game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals will provide plenty of excitement for sports fans early in the afternoon.
This is the first matchup between Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin of the season and both teams badly need a win.
The Penguins currently sit in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, while the Capitals are at the bottom of the standings and one of two teams in the league with only one victory.
Ovechkin has just three points (two goals, one assist) in seven games and his struggles have largely contributed to the Capitals' awful start to the season. Crosby has seven points (three goals, four assists) in seven games, but he hasn't made the kind of impact that the team expected from him in the early part of the season.
The winner of this game will receive a tremendous boost of confidence for an important month of February. These two teams could make some major changes to their rosters if they don't win games consistently over the next two-to-three weeks.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL columnist at Bleacher Report. He was also B/R's on-site reporter for the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL Playoffs in Boston. Follow him on Twitter.