WILD (39-26-11) at BLACKHAWKS (42-19-15)
Last 10: Minnesota 4-4-2; Chicago 4-5-1
Big story: Minnesota looks to wrap up a crucial four-game road trip with a third win. The injury-riddled Blackhawks hope to snap a three-game losing streak.
Wild: Minnesota began its current road trip on a sour note when it suffered a 5-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues on March 27. With games against the Phoenix Coyotes, Los Angeles Kings and the Blackhawks remaining on the trip, talk of another late-season collapse by the Wild began. But third-period comeback wins against the Coyotes and Kings have breathed new life into the Wild, who will play four of their final five games at home after Thursday.
Minnesota will be without center Mikael Granlund, who was injured during the second period Monday against the Kings. Wild coach Mike Yeo said Wednesday he did not have an exact diagnosis on Granlund, only that he has an upper-body injury and that his status beyond Thursday remains unknown. Granlund missed 13 of 14 games earlier this season and all but 29 seconds of another. Minnesota went 6-7-1 without Granlund over that stretch and scored 23 goals.
"We're losing a very talented player, an offensive player that we count on," Yeo said. "A situation like that, we're going to lean on other lines little bit more, lean on our power play a little bit more. You have to make sure you buckle down on defense too."
Blackhawks: Losers of three straight games, the Blackhawks have seen their once-solid lead over the Colorado Avalanche for second place in the Central Division disappear. The Blackhawks and Avalanche are virtually assured of playing one another in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs; it's simply a matter of who will have home-ice advantage. Chicago was five points ahead of Colorado on March 2; now, the Avalanche lead the Blackhawks by three points and hold a game in hand.
Chicago's road to second place got more difficult Wednesday when captain Jonathan Toews was ruled out for the remainder of the regular season with an upper-body injury sustained Sunday against the Pittsburgh Penguins after a hit by Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik. He is expected back for the playoffs.
"He's day-to-day, [but] he's going to be 100 percent for the playoffs. We're not going to play him these last six games," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "The force of the hit, who it was and how meaningful he is to our team and to the game … we're all disappointed. You don't want to see that kind of hit anyways, but we'll work our way through it. We'll be alright."
Who's hot: Wild forward Mikko Koivu kept his scoring streak alive Monday against the Kings, assisting on Zach Parise's second-period goal before scoring the game-winner early in the third. Koivu has at least a point in six straight games, scoring two goals and seven assists over that span. … Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp has scored a point in two straight and has a goal and three assists in his past four games. He is the team-leader in goals (31) and points (73) and leads all Chicago forwards with 42 assists this season.
Injury report: Granlund (upper body) and forwards Nino Niederreiter (upper body) and Jason Zucker (quad), defensemen Keith Ballard (lower body) and Clayton Stoner (knee) and goaltenders Darcy Kuemper (upper body), Josh Harding (illness) and Niklas Backstrom (abdominal) are out for Minnesota. … Forwards Patrick Kane (lower body) and Toews (upper body), defenseman Michal Rozsival (lower body) and goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin (lower body/shoulder) won't play for Chicago.
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