After struggling at home for the last two seasons, the Chicago Blackhawks are finally starting to string together some wins at the United Center. They'll rely on that newfound home-ice advantage as they try to end their longtime woes against the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday.
The Blackhawks look to win six straight at home for the first time in nearly six years when they open a four-game homestand against the Canucks.
Chicago (14-10-2) had the league's second-worst home record last season at 17-20-4 and compiled the NHL's third-worst home mark in 2005-06 at 16-19-6. The Blackhawks opened this season 3-5-0 at the United Center, but have turned things around since a 5-2 home loss to Nashville on Nov. 4.
Chicago has outscored opponents 23-8 during its five-game home winning streak, and will be looking to win six in a row on home ice for the first time since a seven-game run Dec. 27, 2001-Jan. 20, 2002.
While Chicago appears to have solved its home woes, it has had little luck against Vancouver lately.
The Canucks have won 13 of the last 15 matchups with the Blackhawks, including a 2-0 victory Nov. 25. Vancouver has won four straight and six of seven in Chicago after winning just three of its previous 22 games there.
The Canucks (14-10-2) are coming off a 2-1 loss to Minnesota on Sunday, as Roberto Luongo's shutout streak ended at 210 minutes, 34 seconds. Mike Brown scored for Vancouver, which lost in regulation for just the second time since Nov. 3 (9-2-2) and fell two points behind the Northwest Division-leading Wild.
Luongo played well Sunday, but the Canucks managed only 20 shots on goal and were outshot 12-4 in the first period.
"To put all the pressure on him is something we can't do," Ryan Kesler said. "He's probably the best goaltender in the league, and that's something we can't take advantage of because it's going to bite us in the (rear) someday."
Luongo is expected back in net Wednesday as he tries to rebound against a team he's dominated lately.
Luongo's three-game shutout streak began Nov. 25 against Chicago, as he made 27 saves in a 2-0 victory. He's 5-1-0 with a 0.98 goals-against average and two shutouts versus the Blackhawks since going 0-3-0 with one tie and a 3.42 GAA in his first five games against them.
Chicago lost 3-1 at St. Louis on Saturday after winning its previous two games by a combined 11-2.
The Blackhawks managed just 18 shots on goal and were outshot 14-3 in the second period.
"In 60 minutes of play tonight, they had more determination then we did," Chicago coach Denis Savard said. "There's no secret about that. We just didn't handle their physical play and their pressure on us."
Rookie forward Patrick Kane leads the Blackhawks with 20 assists and 27 points, and should be excited about getting back on home ice. Kane has six goals and 15 assists in 13 games at the United Center, and just one goal and five assists in 13 road contests.
Nikolai Khabibulin was given the night off Saturday, but is expected to be in goal for the Blackhawks on Wednesday. He's 7-1-2 with a 2.55 GAA since Oct. 31, and has posted a 1.33 GAA in winning his last three home games.
Khabibulin did not play against the Canucks last month, and like the team he plays for, has struggled against them of late. Khabibulin is 0-6-0 with one tie and a 3.37 GAA against Vancouver since his last win Jan. 26, 1998 for Phoenix, and 6-13-0 with one tie and a 3.36 GAA all-time against the Canucks.