CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks will be without injured forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane for the rest of the regular season, and their first test without the dynamic duo comes Thursday at United Center against the Minnesota Wild (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN2).
The defending Stanley Cup champions trail the second-place Colorado Avalanche by three points.
The Wild (89 points) are trying to further secure the first Western Conference wild-card spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the Blackhawks are hoping to slice into the Avalanche lead for home-ice advantage in the first round. Chicago has lost three straight games, all played on the road without Kane (lower body), and now will play without he and Toews (upper body).
The Blackhawks have played one other regular-season game without Kane and Toews, and that was for rest purposes in the final game of the 2012-13 season at the St. Louis Blues.
"Obviously we missed [Kane] on that trip there, but now without [Toews] and him at the same time, offensively … I think that's why we're looking to play a tight, simple game," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said after the morning skate. "I don't think you have quite the skill across the board and those guys usually enhance their linemates and their lines. It's a situation where we have to make sure we play the right way. We've got to play hard, we've got to play simple and look to play tight."
Quenneville said Kane could get back on the ice for individual work in his rehab as early as Friday in Chicago, while the Blackhawks are on the road at the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Defenseman Michal Rozsival (lower body), who'll miss his ninth straight game when the Blackhawks play the Wild, could return to action in Columbus, and forward Bryan Bickell (upper body) will return Thursday from a six-game absence.
It's been an injury-marred season for Bickell, who signed a four-year contract extension this summer following a memorable playoff run. Bickell has scored 10 goals, has 12 points and a minus-7 rating in 53 games.
"Come playoff time, everybody starts at zero and anything can happen," Bickell said. "I feel like I'm a playoff kind of guy, but for the season I've gone through, with the injuries and the ups and downs, they're going to happen. Hopefully these next six games and the playoffs can erase those memories and start new ones."
Blackhawks alternate captain and top defenseman Duncan Keith didn't participate in the skate but will play. Chicago rookie forward Joakim Nordstrom, recalled from Rockford of the American Hockey League on Wednesday, will center the second line, and center Andrew Shaw will fill in for Toews on the first line.
The Blackhawks will debut new power-play and penalty-kill units.
Erik Haula likely will center the Wild's second line in place of Granlund, and forward Dany Heatley will take Niederreiter's spot at right wing on the fourth line. Niederreiter's absence was unexpected.
"It's just a matter of right now, we just have to make sure that we're careful," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "We don't want to have him come back for one period and then lose him for three weeks here, so let's make sure we approach this with a bit of caution towards making sure that we have him back and healthy for good."
Minnesota recalled former Blackhawks center Jake Dowell along with goaltender John Curry on Wednesday from Iowa of the AHL. Dowell will center Minnesota's fourth line. Curry will back up Ilya Bryzgalov after Darcy Kuemper was injured Monday during the morning skate for the Kings game.
Since joining the Wild after a trade with the Edmonton Oilers, Bryzgalov is 4-0-2 with a 2.16 goals-against average and .909 save percentage. He will be the fourth Minnesota goalie to face Chicago this season and has stopped 41 of 44 shots while starting the past two games of a four-game road trip.
Goalie Corey Crawford will start for the Blackhawks.
Here is how the Wild and Blackhawks might line up:
Injured: Nino Niederreiter (upper body), Jason Zucker (quad), Mikael Granlund (upper body), Keith Ballard (lower body), Clayton Stoner (knee), Darcy Kuemper (upper body), Josh Harding (illness), Niklas Backstrom (abdominal)