DUCKS (16-18-7) at BLACKHAWKS (28-10-3)
Anaheim 5-5-0; Chicago 8-2-0
Anaheim leads the series 1-0, after blanking Chicago, 3-0, on Nov. 27. The loss snapped Chicago's season-high eight-game winning streak.
As the Ducks struggle to stay in the playoff hunt, they'll end their brief three-game road swing in Chicago, where the Blackhawks will look to keep the momentum of the season's first half rolling in 2010.
The hard times are continuing for the Ducks, who have lost four of their last five games. This recent slide has been one in a season of many for Anaheim, which is on the outside looking in at the West's top eight, and in danger of missing the postseason for the first time in six years. The Pacific Division cellar dwellers should get a boost soon, as Finnish sniper Teemu Selanne has been skating after missing the last month with a broken left hand.
Selanne's return is unlikely to come Sunday, however, and the increase in scoring he provides is badly needed. Anaheim has averaged only two goals per game over their last five, though Saku Koivu
has managed four points in the last three games. The dearth of scoring has made the job tougher for netminder Jonas Hiller
, who has actually won five of his last eight starts while posting a 2.44 goals-against average over that stretch. With Hiller having started Saturday night in the Ducks' loss to Nashville, however, Jean-Sebastien Giguere is likely to be between the pipes for Anaheim.
Sunday's game against the Ducks will be the start of a brief two-game homestand for the Blackhawks. Wins at the United Center could be valuable for the League's best home team, as the Hawks will play 11 of their 15 games in January on the road. Of course, Chicago has been winning just about everywhere lately. The Hawks have won 12 of the 16 games they've played since Nov. 28, the last time Chicago lost two games in a row.
The Hawks have spent most of their recent stretch powered by Patrick Kane
, who has seven goals and five assists in the last seven games, but Kane is hardly alone in his offensive contributions -- five different players tallied two points in Chicago's 6-3 win at St. Louis Saturday night. The offensive outburst helped netminder Cristobal Huet
to his 19th win of the season despite giving up three goals. His reward will likely be the day off Sunday, as backup Antti Niemi is expected to get the opportunity to chase his 10th win of the year and the seventh in his last eight starts.
Anaheim's Bobby Ryan
, who was named to the U.S. Olympic team Friday, has continued his potent play, notching 16 points in his last 14 games. In Chicago, while Kane has gotten most of the publicity lately, captain Jonathan Toews
has been on a hot streak of his own with 10 points in his last six outings.
Selanne could return for the Ducks Sunday, but it is more likely that he will be back with the team Tuesday at home against Detroit. Anaheim may also be missing Steve Eminger and Ryan Getzlaf
, who were scratches Saturday against Nashville. Chicago might be without defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson
, who missed Saturday's game against St. Louis with a head injury.
If Giguere is in net for the Ducks it could make a tall order even taller. The once-elite goalie seems far removed from his Conn Smythe-winning campaign in 2003 and his Cup-winning postseason in 2007. Giguere has just one win since Nov. 27, going 1-3-3 in eight starts since, including a performance against Phoenix on Dec. 23 when he was lifted after just eight minutes. The only thing uglier than his record might be his GAA, which is an unsightly 3.97 over that stretch.
Sunday's showdown at the United Center looks like it'll be a matchup of two teams headed in opposite directions and only moving further away from each other. The Hawks will look to make up ground on the idle Sharks for the top overall seed in the West, and while the Ducks will try to spoil the party, Anaheim hasn't gotten two points at the United Center in more than two years.