(SportsNetwork.com) - A pair of Central Division rivals will meet for the
opener of a home-and-home series on Saturday, as the Chicago Blackhawks
welcome the Minnesota Wild for a clash at United Center.
This is the first of five meetings between these teams this season and the
first as members of the same division. Chicago was previously a member of the
Central Division, but the Wild joined the group for this season as part of the
NHL's realignment plan.
The Wild, who will host Chicago on Monday, have not fared well against Chicago
in recent meetings. The Blackhawks have won two straight in the series and
boast a 6-0-3 record in the past nine encounters between the clubs. The
defending Stanley Cup champions also have come out on top in three of four and
five of its last seven meetings in the Windy City.
Minnesota comes into this Central Division showdown with wins in its last two
trips to the ice and will try to win three straight for the second time this
season. The Wild won both games on their mini-streak at home, beating
Nashville 2-0 on Tuesday before notching a 3-1 decision Thursday against the
Nino Niederreiter and Zach Parise tallied first-period goals that held up for
the win on Thursday against the 'Canes. Both early scores came against Justin
Peters, who was pressed into duty for Carolina when No. 1 goaltender Cam Ward
exited with a lower-body injury just 4:07 into the contest.
Dany Heatley's first goal of the season, an empty-netter with 25.9 seconds
left, sealed the Wild's fourth straight win on home ice.
"I thought our start was good. Got up a couple goals and we definitely let our
foot off the gas," said Wild head coach Mike Yeo.
Minnesota, meanwhile, also lost a goaltender to injury as Josh Harding stopped
20-of-21 shots before leaving after two periods with a lower-body injury.
Niklas Backstrom came on for the third and made seven saves to protect the
lead. Backstrom will get the call on Saturday, his first start since getting
injured on Oct. 8
It's unclear if Harding will be able to serve as the backup tonight. If he's
unable to suit up, the Wild will use Johan Gustafsson to spell Backstrom if
the need arises.
The Blackhawks are coming off a loss, but the team has managed to earn a point
in seven straight games, going 5-0-2 over that span.
Chicago had a two-game winning streak halted Thursday, dropping a wild 6-5
overtime decision in Tampa. Martin St. Louis scored on a rebound 1:16 into the
extra session to give the host Lightning the extra point.
After Steven Stamkos scored his second goal of the game with 2:29 left in
regulation to put the Lightning ahead 5-4, Jonathan Toews was credited with a
goal on a Tampa Bay miscue less than a minute later to force overtime.
However, in the extra session, Radko Gudas ripped a shot at Nikolai
Khabibulin, who coughed up the rebound which allowed St. Louis to wrist home
Khabibulin, in just his second game of the season, stopped just 19-of-25 shots
for the Blackhawks, who had won five of six games entering Thursday's tilt.
Bryan Bickell, Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane and Andrew Shaw all netted goals in
"I thought going into the third period we didn't give up much. We were playing
the right way," Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville said. "Things got a little
bit different than we've seen in any third period this year. I guess it was
one of those nights where the puck was going in."
Corey Crawford is expected to get the start on Saturday. He is 3-1-2 with a
2.01 goals against average in seven career outings against the Wild.
The Sports Network