CHICAGO — The Winnipeg Jets will go for their fourth win in a row when they visit the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday night at the United Center.
Winnipeg (26-11-7) has scored 15 goals in its past three games and leads the Western Conference with 151 goals this season. The outburst of offense has propelled the Jets to first place in the Central Division as they seek their second playoff appearance since relocating from Atlanta before the start of the 2011-12 season.
Meanwhile, Chicago (21-16-6) is hoping for a bounce-back performance after opening a six-game homestand with a 2-1 loss against the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday night. The Blackhawks have slipped out of the top eight spots in the conference and hope to collect as many points as possible before a five-day break between games next week.
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“All these games are huge,” Blackhawks right winger Patrick Kane said to the Chicago Tribune. “It’s easy to look at the schedule and the standings and say, “OK, if we do this or that, we could be in good position, but we have to take it one game at a time, see how many points we can get.”
Chicago will try to find a way to slow down Jets captain Blake Wheeler, who has at least one point in each of his past seven games. Wheeler is one of six players on the Jets who have scored double-digit goals this season.
Forwards Patrick Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers have 19 goals apiece to lead the team.
For the Blackhawks, Kane leads the way with 45 points (18 goals, 27 assists) in 43 games. He has performed well against Winnipeg throughout his career with 29 points (13 goals, 16 assists) in 24 contests.
Winnipeg likely will turn to Connor Hellebuyck in net. The 24-year-old has a remarkable 23-4-6 record with a 2.36 goals-against average and .923 save percentage this season. He is 4-3-0 with a 2.17 GAA and .933 save percentage in seven career appearances against Chicago.
Earlier this week, Hellebuyck learned that he was selected to his first NHL All-Star Game.
“It’s awesome,” he said to the Winnipeg Sun. “It’s a big accomplishment in my life. (My confidence) is high. It’s exactly where it was last year, but now I can really trust it.
“The guys in front of me can see it. They can feel it. They’re helping it a lot because they’re playing so well. You can see in the details of our game. Everybody is doing the right thing. They’re not cheating at all, and that’s really helping me a lot.”
Goaltender Anton Forsberg is expected to make his fourth straight start for the Blackhawks, who are without goaltender Corey Crawford because of an upper-body injury. The 25-year-old Forsberg is 3-6-3 with a 2.92 GAA and .911 save percentage this season. He never has faced the Jets in his career.
This is the second of five meetings between the teams during the regular season. In the first matchup Dec. 14, the Blackhawks cruised to a 5-1 victory in Winnipeg.