Blackhawks try to finally bring down Jets (Jan 26, 2017)
The Chicago Blackhawks are putting together another solid season that should have them vying this spring for their fourth Stanley Cup championship since 2010.
First, they would like to go into the All-Star break with a win over the Winnipeg Jets, a team that has given them an unexpected amount of trouble.
The Blackhawks look to bounce back from a disappointing performance and avoid a fourth straight loss to the Jets when the teams tangle on Thursday night at the United Center in Chicago.
Chicago (30-15-5) is second in the Central Division, two points behind the Minnesota Wild, who have three games in hand. The Blackhawks probably didn't expect to have difficulty with Winnipeg (22-25-4) thus far.
In winning all three games in 2016-17, the Jets have outscored the Blackhawks, 9-2.
"They played us well a couple of years ago as well," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said Wednesday. "They check well, they're hard to play against."
Winnipeg has dropped six of eight after falling 4-3 to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday. Bryan Little scored twice and rookie star Patrik Laine posted an assist in his first game after missing eight with a concussion.
"It was nice to get back on the ice, and be able to play instead of watching the game from the stands," the second overall pick in the 2016 NHL draft said Tuesday.
"First shift, I think I was thinking about the game too much. Just have to leave the thinking and go out there and play."
Despite the layoff, Laine is still among the rookie scoring leaders with 38 points (21 goals, 17 assists). He scored in the Jets' 4-0 win over Chicago on Nov. 15, but failed to register a point while managing a total of four shots in the other two games versus the Blackhawks.
"We have to bounce back and get ready for Chicago," Winnipeg defenseman Jacob Trouba said Tuesday. Trouba drew two assists in a 3-1 win on the road over the Blackhawks on Dec. 27.
Quenneville also said Wednesday that Scott Darling would start in goal against the Jets over Corey Crawford, who allowed four third-period goals -- two of them 30 seconds apart to Tyler Johnson -- in Tuesday's 5-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Darling is 12-4-2 with a 2.21 goals-against average and coming off his second shutout of the season. He stopped 30 shots on Friday in Chicago's 1-0 road victory over the Boston Bruins.
"Darls earned the start based on how well he played the other day in Boston," Quenneville said. "Crow's game, last game, was something that gives us some consideration based on Darls' last game. Put it all together and that's where we're at."
Darling has been formidable at the United Center this season, posting a 7-2-1 record with a 1.98 GAA, a .938 save percentage and a shutout.
One of those losses, though, came against Winnipeg. Darling gave up the tiebreaking goal to Andrew Copp with less than five minutes to play in the Blackhawks' 2-1 loss on Dec. 4.
Overall. Darling is 2-1-0 with a 1.89 GAA, .936 save percentage and a shutout in his career versus the Jets.
"Our goaltending has always been a strength here," Quenneville said.
Quenneville expects center Marcus Kruger to be back in the lineup on Thursday.
Kruger, who has been out since Dec. 31 because of an upper-body injury, has two goals and eight assists in 39 games, and needs two points for 100 in his career.
Winnipeg will be without center Mathieu Perreault, who was placed on injured reserve Wednesday with an upper-body injury, retroactive to Tuesday.
Perreault has four goals and 12 assists in 36 games, and is a team-worst minus-12.
The Jets recalled defenseman Brian Strait from Manitoba of the American Hockey League in a corresponding move.