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Blackhawks-Wild Preview

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The Minnesota Wild appear to have rebounded from a recent slump on home ice - and just in time to welcome the Chicago Blackhawks back into town.

The Wild look to win their eighth straight home game over the Blackhawks when the teams meet Saturday at the Xcel Energy Center for the second time in less than a week.

Minnesota is 9-2 all-time against Chicago at home, and is outscoring them 26-13 during their seven-game winning streak.

Minnesota (15-11-2) opened its season with eight straight home wins, including three by shootout. The Wild followed that start by losing four of five.

They snapped out of that home slide with a pair of shootout wins. After beating Chicago 3-2 on Tuesday, the Wild defeated division-rival Calgary by the same score on Thursday.

Second-year center Mikko Koivu scored opened the scoring in regulation against the Flames, then added the game-winner in the shootout past reigning Vezina Trophy winner Miikka Kiprusoff.

"However you win, and you do the things right, you get the confidence," said Koivu, who also scored in the shootout earlier this week against the Blackhawks. With 17 points this season, Koivu is well on his way to eclipsing the 21 he had in 64 games as a rookie a year ago.

With Marian Gaborik and Pavol Demitra out due to injuries, Brian Rolston has picked up the scoring slack. Like Koivu, he scored in regulation and added one more in the shootout against the Flames and has a team-high 15 goals.

Rolston also has three goals and four assists in a five-game points streak against the Blackhawks.

Goaltender Manny Fernandez made a season-high 38 saves before stopping two of three in the shootout.

"I definitely have worked really hard in practice. I've tried to get my focus back, so we'll see what that will lead to," said Fernandez, who was 1-8-0 with a 3.86 goals-against average in 11 games from Oct. 29-Dec. 1. He's won his last four starts against Chicago while recording a 1.72 GAA.

The Blackhawks (10-12-4) may finally get a big offensive boost against the Wild, as right wing Martin Havlat could return after missing 19 games with a sprained ankle. Havlat posted seven goals and six assists in Chicago's first seven games this season, but hasn't played since Oct. 20.

He is traveling with the team and a decision will be made after Saturday's morning skate if he will play. If Havlat returns, he would join an offense that has been held to two goals or less in 14 games during his absence including a 2-1 shootout loss to Phoenix on Thursday.

The Blackhawks went 0-for-6 on the power play, and is 0-for-33 with the man-advantage over the last nine games.

"We've got to execute better passes," said coach Denis Savard, who's 3-0-2 since taking over late last month for the fired Trent Yawney. "We're fumbling pucks and kind of panicked a bit. We've got to loosen up."

Nikolai Khabibulin made 34 saves Thursday after stopping 35 shots against the Wild on Tuesday. He's 0-4-1 with a 2.83 GAA at the Xcel Energy Center in his career.

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