WINNIPEG – The Chicago Blackhawks will attempt to put distance between themselves and the approaching Winnipeg Jets at MTS Centre on Sunday (7:30 p.m. ET; CITY, WGN).
The Blackhawks have lost three of their past four games, allowing the Jets to creep to within four points of them in the Central Division. The Minnesota Wild's 4-1 win Saturday against the Los Angeles Kings placed them past the Blackhawks into third place by one point.
Winnipeg received a boost Sunday when coach Paul Maurice confirmed that forward Mathieu Perreault will return to the lineup. Perreault missed 16 games because of an upper-body injury sustained Feb. 16.
Chicago holds the first wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference; Winnipeg has won six of its past seven games and holds the second wild card. The Blackhawks have a game in hand on the Jets.
"The reality of our situation is really setting in," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said Sunday after the Blackhawks held an optional morning skate. "If we haven't seen any playoff [type] games yet, tonight is definitely going to be that."
However, the Jets know that the Blackhawks' recent struggles could resolve themselves quickly.
"You're on edge the entire night with [Chicago] because you never, ever have control of a game," Maurice said.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville will start goaltender Corey Crawford. Quenneville pulled Crawford in the first period of a 5-2 home loss against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday.
Defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, who left late in the third period of the game Friday after receiving a hit, did not participate in the morning skate, but Quenneville said that he will dress.
Chicago has allowed 14 goals in its past four games. Quenneville will expect the Blackhawks, who rank third in the NHL with 2.28 goals allowed per game, to play a more defensively-minded game against Winnipeg.
"I think everybody knows the importance of [this] game, so I expect a hard game right from the get-go," Quenneville said.
Maurice did not announce who Perreault will replace in the lineup, but it is expected that Perreault will dress in place of Eric O'Dell on Winnipeg's fourth line with left wing Chris Thorburn and right wing Matt Halischuk. Perreault will also see power-play time.
Before Perreault's injury, he was playing on the second line as a left wing. However, Maurice said that he did not want to disrupt his other existing lines and Perreault will return to his natural position as a center.
"I'm just going to try to keep it simple," Perreault said. "I haven't played in so long. I know that my legs might not be under me as much as they were before I got hurt."
Goalie Ondrej Pavelec will start for the Jets. He has a six-game winning streak and is 6-1-0 in March with a .963 save percentage.
Here are the projected lineups:
Kris Versteeg – Jonathan Toews – Marian Hossa
Brandon Saad – Brad Richards – Patrick Sharp
Bryan Bickell – Antoine Vermette – Teuvo Teravainen
Andrew Desjardins – Marcus Kruger – Andrew Shaw
Duncan Keith – David Rundblad
Johnny Oduya – Niklas Hjalmarsson
Kimmo Timonen – Brent Seabrook
Scratched: Kyle Baun, Michael Paliotta, Michal Rozsival
Injured: Daniel Carcillo (upper body), Patrick Kane (left clavicle), Joakim Nordstrom (upper body)
Andrew Ladd – Adam Lowry – Michael Frolik
Drew Stafford – Mark Scheifele – Blake Wheeler
Jiri Tlusty – Jim Slater – Lee Stempniak
Chris Thorburn – Mathieu Perreault – Matt Halischuk
Toby Enstrom – Tyler Myers
Mark Stuart – Jacob Trouba
Adam Pardy – Dustin Byfuglien
Scratched: Andrew Copp, Keaton Ellerby, TJ Galiardi, Jay Harrison, Eric O'Dell, Anthony Peluso
Injured: Ben Chiarot (upper body) Grant Clitsome (back), Bryan Little (upper body), Paul Postma (lower body)
Status report: Newly signed forward Baun did not accompany the Blackhawks to Winnipeg because of a visa issue, according to Quenneville…Another recent signee, Paliotta, skated Sunday. … Maurice said it's possible that Little could dress Tuesday against the New York Rangers. Little has missed the past 10 games because of an upper-body injury. "We'll have to make a decision on him for New York," Maurice said.
Who's hot: Stafford has the longest active points streak in the League at eight games (four goals and six assists). …Wheeler has eight goals and six assists in his past 12 games.