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Playing in front of their home fans has given the Chicago Blackhawks a significant edge this season. That won't bode well for a Minnesota Wild team that's enjoyed little success away from St. Paul lately.
The Western Conference rivals meet for the third time in 2008-09 on Monday night, when the Blackhawks open a brief two-game homestand against the Wild, who are trying to prevent their ninth loss in 11 road contests.
A 6-5 loss to league-leading San Jose on Nov. 16 remains the Blackhawks' only regulation defeat at the United Center, but they've since posted an 8-0-1 record there by outscoring opponents 35-12 in that span.
Chicago (25-10-8) lost to Detroit at Wrigley Field in the Winter Classic on New Year's Day, but are 14-2-5 overall as hosts. Minnesota has secured victories in five of its last seven visits to the United Center, but did lose 3-0 on Feb. 20 in their last game there.
After winning nine straight games overall against Chicago, the Wild (22-19-3) have dropped three of the last four. They've split two season matchups with the Blackhawks, winning 3-2 on Oct. 27 before falling 4-1 on Dec. 28.
Victories away from home, however, haven't been common lately for the Wild, who have been outscored 24-13 while losing eight of 10 since Dec. 6. This is Minnesota's final road contest heading into the All-Star break.
Chicago, meanwhile, enters this matchup - the first of two home games before the break - following a 2-1 overtime victory at St. Louis on Saturday night.
Martin Havlat scored his 14th goal 1:23 into the extra period for the Blackhawks, who won for the third time in four games overall.
Chicago also received a boost on the power play, going 1-for-3 after faltering on 10 of 11 of their chances in an overtime loss to the visiting New York Rangers the previous night.
"Our power play got us a big goal," said Cristobal Huet, who finished with 27 saves. "We battled and we found a way to win in overtime."
The Blackhawks prevailed despite the absence of key defenseman Duncan Keith, who missed a second straight game with a head injury and remains day-to-day.
The status of the Wild's Andrew Brunette is also unclear after coach Jacques Lemaire said the veteran forward "didn't look good" after apparently hurting his right knee midway through Friday's 3-0 defeat to visiting Anaheim.
Brunette has appeared in 497 consecutive games - currently the longest streak in the NHL - since sitting out on Dec. 31, 2001 with a bruised shoulder.
Losing Brunette was just one of several setbacks for the Wild in their latest contest, which prevented them from a perfect three-game homestand. They also had a goal waved off by a premature whistle, and watched 18 of their 30 shots miss the net.
"You know, it's a tough game to look at and accept everything that was going on for us," Lemaire told the Wild's official Web site.
It was also a hard-luck outing for All-Star reserve Niklas Backstrom, who finished with 31 saves in losing for just the second time in seven starts. He's compiled a 2.02 goals-against average in splitting four career contests against the Blackhawks, but has never played in Chicago.
If the Blackhawks continue their goaltending rotation, Nikolai Khabibulin will start Monday at the United Center, where he is 7-0-4 with a 1.92 GAA in 12 contests. He's just 3-6-2 in 11 all-time matchups versus the Wild despite a 2.35 GAA.