Heading out on their annual circus trip, the Chicago Blackhawks will try to achieve a feat they've failed to do for nearly a year, and may get an injured star back to help them do it.
Goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin is expected to be in net, and Chicago (6-9-1) will try to win its third straight game Thursday when it meets the Phoenix Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena to start a five-game road trip.
Khabibulin suffered a broken finger on Oct. 21 and has missed eight games. Chicago lost its first six games without him before Sebastien Caron made 24 saves Friday in a 3-1 win over the St. Louis Blues.
Brian Boucher then picked up his first win since Feb. 10, turning aside 28 shots in a 1-0 win Sunday over the Columbus Blue Jackets. It also was his first shutout since Jan. 9, 2004, when he posted the last of his five straight for Phoenix.
"It's a huge sense of relief, but it wasn't getting to my head," Boucher said. "You know you can win. It's just a matter of getting that first one."
Despite the performance, Boucher is expected to return to his backup role behind Khabibulin, who signed the richest deal in Blackhawks' history prior to last season when he inked a four-year, $27 million deal. After going 17-26 with a 3.35 GAA in his first season with Chicago, Khabibulin is 4-2 with a 3.36 GAA and has allowed four or more goals in three games.
Khabibulin is 5-1 with a 1.16 GAA and two shutouts in six career starts against the Phoenix/Winnipeg franchise, where he spent his first five seasons.
The Blackhawks hope his return can help them match their 2005-06 season-high three-game winning streak from Nov. 13-19, 2005.
That streak included two road wins to start a five-game road trip due to the annual circus taking over the United Center. They have only three wins with one tie in 23 games over the last four seasons during the extended trips caused by the circus.
Phoenix (5-12-0), which is in the Pacific Division cellar, will look to win consecutive games for the first time this season. Oleg Saprykin netted his first two goals of the season, including the game-winner with 3:19 to play to give the Coyotes a 4-3 win Tuesday over Northwest Division-leading Minnesota.
"I think we had a lot of character tonight," Coyotes center Yanic Perreault, who also scored twice. "This team is playing desperate right now."
The Coyotes have struggled to score goals without injured forwards Mike Comrie and Shane Doan, who each have a team-high four goals. Comrie will be out until early December with a broken foot, and Doan will miss up to another two weeks with a bad back.
Goaltending has also been an issue with Curtis Joseph winning his first game in seven starts Tuesday. The 39-year-old Joseph's 3.79 GAA in 14 games - 12 starts - this season is almost one goal higher than last season.
He is 1-3 with a 3.25 GAA in his last four starts against the Blackhawks.
Phoenix and Chicago split four meetings last season.