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Blackhawks back on road to challenge Wild

by David Kalan

BLACKHAWKS (20-5-4) at WILD (16-8-5)


Last 10: Chicago 7-3-0; Minnesota 5-4-1

Season series: The Chicago Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild have split two games this season. Chicago won the last game between the two teams, the second end of a back-to-back, 5-1 at Xcel Energy Center on Oct. 28.

Big story: The road-weary Blackhawks had a six-game winning streak snapped in their return home from a seven-game road trip on Tuesday. As they look to rebound, they'll be leaving town again; this time for a quick trip to face division-rival Minnesota, which might want to ask Chicago for packing tips during its visit. After facing the Blackhawks on Thursday, the Wild will play eight of their next 10 games on the road.

Team Scope:

Blackhawks: For Chicago, it seems you can go home again, just not for very long. After finally returning to the United Center fresh off going an impressive 6-1-0 on their annual "Circus Trip," the Blackhawks are back on the road after playing just one game at United Center.

That game did not go as well as planned, as Chicago lost 4-3 to the Dallas Stars. The Blackhawks did show resiliency, rallying from a three-goal deficit to tie the game and outshooting Dallas 50-18, but despite dominating most of the play Chicago was undone by an off night for goalie Corey Crawford and a third-period penalty shot by the Stars' Antoine Roussel.

"It certainly wasn't a dud," coach Joel Quenneville said afterward. "It was a dud to start, for me, but we got ourselves into the game and gave ourselves a chance to at least tie it and play a third period where anything could happen."

Chicago still holds a hefty five-point lead in the Central Division, but the St. Louis Blues and Colorado Avalanche have three and four games in hand on the Blackhawks, respectively.

Wild: While Chicago took control of the Central Division during its recent winning streak, Minnesota may have jeopardized its positioning in the Western Conference. The Wild played exceptionally well for most of November, going 9-1-1 in their first 11 games, but stumbled at the finish, losing their last four games of the month.

Three of those games came against division-rivals Colorado and St. Louis, while the fourth was against the Phoenix Coyotes, another team with which Minnesota will likely be jockeying for Stanley Cup Playoff positioning for the rest of the season.

The Wild did manage to put a stop to the skid on Monday night, shutting out the Philadelphia Flyers 2-0, but damage has still been done and the upcoming schedule provides few, if any breaks. Nine of Minnesota's next 10 games are against teams either in playoff position or just outside of its respective conference's top eight.

One cause for the team's dropoff might be the absence of center Mikael Granlund, who has missed five of the past six games with a concussion. According to coach Mike Yeo, that is likely to remain the case for the foreseeable future.

"We're going to keep him off right now," Yeo told the media Wednesday. "He skated the other day and we're at the point now where let's just take some time off here and make sure we get this right.

Who's hot: Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane recently had a 12-game point streak snapped, but since then he has picked up where he left off, scoring a goal and adding three assists in his past two games. … Minnesota goalie Josh Harding stopped 21 shots on Monday for his third shutout of the season. That figure and his 1.45 goals-against average are tops in the League.

Injury report: Chicago center Michal Handzus (illness) remains out while left wing Bryan Bickell, goalie Nikolai Khabibulin and defenseman Michael Kostka are all out with lower-body injuries. Andrew Shaw (undisclosed) is also out. Granlund (concussion) remains on injured reserve for Minnesota.

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