AT THE TEAM HOTEL
CHICAGO, Illinois -- Arriving in Chicago at approximately 2:00am CT, the Winnipeg Jets did not have a morning skate in advance of tonight's game against the Blackhawks.
Following last night's win over the Dallas Stars, the Jets are now only four points back of the Hawks and St. Louis Blues for second and third place in the Central Division.
With 54 points on the year, the Jets (23-14-8) continue to lead the Western Conference wild card race, four points up on the Los Angeles Kings and five on the first non-playoff team, the Calgary Flames.
Michael Hutchinson will get the start in goal for the Jets, looking to improve on his 12-4-2 record, 2.00 goals-against average and .931 save percentage. The Blackhawks will counter with Corey Crawford, who's 17-8-2 on the year, boasting a 2.15 GAA and a .924 save percentage in 27 appearances.
The Jets lead the season series 2-0, with both wins coming at United Center (1-0 on Nov. 2 and 5-1 on Dec. 23). Hutchinson made a combined 71 saves in the pair.
Blake Wheeler will play his 500th NHL game tonight. The 28-year-old has a career 133 goals and 201 assists for 334 points, with 207 of those recorded in Winnipeg.
“I put him in that Mark Stuart group of being really competitive every day,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said after the morning skate in Dallas. “He’s been our most consistent driver up front. There have been games where maybe the puck didn’t go his way, but there haven’t been any games where I thought he didn’t give everything he had.”
With a goal last night in Dallas, Mathieu Perreault extended his point streak to five games. Perreault, who has 15 goals and 29 points overall this season, has six goals and nine points in a span dating back to Jan. 8 at Arizona.
THEY SAID IT
"They’ve definitely got a better team this year," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said following Friday's morning skate. "They’re a dangerous team and they play the right way, so we've got to take care of our own business. We want to make sure that they don’t come in here and beat us all three times.
"That would definitely get them excited."
Added winger Bryan Bickell, who will skate on the second line alongside Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane tonight: "They’re a good team. They come out hot and we need to bring up our intensity level and physicality to match theirs."
Jets defenceman Dustin Byfuglien spent parts of four seasons with the Blackhawks, and while his departure in 2010 is long in the rearview, his former club remains on guard, knowing full well what No. 33 brings at both ends of the ice.
"He’s playing well," Quenneville said. "We saw him play mostly up front with us and that big body can make an impact. He’s a factor out there and a big part of their team success this year. Everybody seems to bring a lot of speed and he certainly adds to that.
"When he’s on the point, that shot is something we have to be concerned about."
-- Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com
JETS (23-14-8) AT BLACKHAWKS (28-13-2)
TV: TSN3, CSN-CH
Season series: The Winnipeg Jets have caught the attention of the Chicago Blackhawks by winning twice in as many trips to United Center. Former Blackhawks Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd and Michael Frolik have spearheaded the effort in the two games along with goalie Michael Hutchinson, who started both. He is 2-0-0 with a 0.50 goals-against average and .986 save percentage (71 saves on 72 shots) against Chicago.
Jets team scope: Winnipeg continues to make noise within the Central Division. The Jets held off the Dallas Stars 2-1 at American Airlines Center on Thursday to further strengthen their hold on the first Western Conference wild-card berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They are fourth in the Central Division with 54 points, nine ahead of the Stars and four behind the St. Louis Blues and Blackhawks (58). Winnipeg can thank goalie Ondrej Pavelec for the win in Dallas; he made 46 saves and nearly had a shutout before allowing a goal by Stars defenseman Trevor Daley with 1:16 left in regulation. Dallas outshot Winnipeg 47-22, including 22-6 in the second period, but the Jets killed all seven Stars power plays. Frolik's ninth goal opened the scoring 3:53 into the game and Evander Kane's ninth goal, at 7:34 of the third, decided it. Hutchinson will start for a third time against Chicago.
Blackhawks team scope: Chicago hasn't played since a 4-1 home victory against the Minnesota Wild on Sunday and should be well-rested. After two days without practice, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville is pleased with the rejuvenated energy level he saw in back-to-back practices Wednesday and Thursday. "We had two real good practices here and now they want to play," Quenneville said. "They're excited about going into the game. We've got a team that had some success against us here twice already, earlier on, and we can't let that happen [again]." Quenneville has changed his power-play units. Center Andrew Shaw was replaced by left wing Patrick Sharp in front of the net on the top unit. Defenseman David Rundblad is the new left point for the second group. Goalie Corey Crawford will start.