Preview: Wild at Blackhawks
CHICAGO — The Chicago Blackhawks will try to extend their season-long winning streak to five games when they host the Minnesota Wild on Sunday evening at the United Center.
Chicago (16-11-5) has won its past four games by a combined margin of 14-6. The surge has coincided with the return of goaltender Corey Crawford, who missed more than a week because of a lower-body injury.
Crawford and the Blackhawks will face a tough test against Minnesota (17-12-3). The Wild also boasted a four-game winning streak before it was snapped with a 3-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday afternoon.
The contest marks the final home game of 2017 for the Blackhawks, who are about to embark on a six-game road trip.
“Let’s take advantage of the home ice,” coach Joel Quenneville said to the Chicago Tribune. “We’re coming off some wins, but I still think there’s a 60-minute complete game for us.”
That type of effort will have to come in spite of two injuries on the blue line. Defensemen Jan Rutta and Cody Franson are expected to be out because of upper-body injuries, which means Jordan Oesterle and Michal Kempny will need to fill the void. Oesterle has joined the top defensive pairing lately alongside Duncan Keith.
Minnesota has coped with injuries to key players throughout the season. Left winger Zach Parise has been sidelined as he recovers from back surgery, but he recently was cleared to practice and is hopeful to return to game action soon.
“I don’t want to come back and ease in,” Parise said to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “I want to come back and be ready to play right away. … There’s no doubt in my mind that I’ll be able to get back to playing the way that I know that I can, the way I’m capable of.”
Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk also has been out for the past two games because of a lower-body injury. Alex Stalock has started back-to-back games in his place with Steve Michalek available as a backup.
Stalock posted a win in his only start against the Blackhawks. He stopped 33 of 35 shots for a .943 save percentage. Michalek, 24, has yet to play an NHL game.
For Chicago, Crawford is 15-7-2 with a 2.15 goals-against average and a .934 save percentage this season. He is 11-9-2 with a 2.39 GAA and .922 save percentage in 23 career games against Minnesota.
The Blackhawks are led in scoring by right winger Patrick Kane, who has 32 points (12 goals, 20 assists) in 32 games. Rookie Alex DeBrincat is next on the team with 23 points (12 goals, 11 assists), and center Jonathan Toews has 22 points (nine goals, 13 assists).
Minnesota’s top scorer is center Eric Staal, who has 28 points (12 goals, 16 assists) in 32 games. Left winger Jason Zucker has 25 points (14 goals, 11 assists), and right winger Mikael Granlund has 21 points (seven goals, 14 assists).
This is the third of five meetings during the regular season between the teams. The series is even at 1 with both teams winning in the other’s venue.