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Hawks preparing for the unknown in Avalanche

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- After facing the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday at United Center (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN2), the Chicago Blackhawks will have burned through half of the season's 48-game schedule.

They also will be playing the only Western Conference team that hasn't had a chance to give Chicago (20-0-3) its first loss in regulation time this season -- though the Avalanche hold just a 2-7-3 mark on the road thus far.

Among the 13 Western Conference teams Chicago has faced to date, the Blackhawks have earned victories against all but the Anaheim Ducks, who left Chicago on Feb. 12 with a hard-earned 3-2 shootout win. It was one of just three shootout defeats for the Blackhawks, the only time they've been on the wrong end of the final score this season.

"I'm sure they're excited," Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said of the Avalanche, following his team's 5-3 home victory Tuesday against the Minnesota Wild -- a win which also was a team-record 10th straight. "I'm sure they want to be the team that comes in and maybe catches us off-guard, but we've just got to regroup and get ourselves ready for another game at home. We need to take advantage of the energy that our fans give us in the first period and try to carry that for three periods."

It will be the seventh game the Blackhawks play in an 11-day window, which makes the fact they've now won those 10 straight games and gone 29 straight dating to last season with at least a point even more impressive.

It’s not going to be an easy task for Colorado, even if reports in the Denver Post say it's possible that injured defensemen Erik Johnson (head) and Ryan Wilson (ankle) might return after extended absences.

"If you go on a streak like that, 10 [wins], that's amazing," Toews said. "Whether we win 10 games or we go 8-2 or 6-4, it doesn't matter as long as we keep improving. We've said it many times before -- we're playing good hockey now, but we're trying to build on what type of

team we want to be at the end of the regular season going into the playoffs. That's our ultimate goal."

Despite seeing the obvious carrot dangling in front of them, in the form of Chicago's blazing-hot start, the Avalanche also need to focus on their short-term situation. Colorado has dropped two straight games and finds itself 14th in the Western Conference standings with 20

points, but just four points behind the eighth-place Dallas Stars.

The Avalanche went 3-1-0 against the Blackhawks last season, including 2-0-0 at United Center, and this will be their lone trip to town this season. Chicago will make two trips to Colorado, starting with a game Friday at Pepsi Center, and another March 18.

"We haven't seen them [yet], but we've got them three times in 12 days, so it's going to be a busy little sequence with them," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said Tuesday of the Avalanche. "They've got everybody back up front and they've got a lot of speed in

their lineup. They're a dangerous team."

Quenneville did not have an update on the status of forward Michael Frolik following Tuesday's win, but will meet with reporters prior to the game and should give an update on that situation along with confirming what he reportedly said Wednesday on The Dan Patrick Radio Show -- that Ray Emery will get the start in goal.

Here is how the Avalanche and Blackhawks could line up Wednesday:


Jamie McGinn - Matt Duchene - PA Parenteau

Gabriel Landeskog - Paul Stastny - David Jones

John Mitchell - Ryan O'Reilly - Aaron Palushaj

Cody McLeod - Mark Olver - Chuck Kobasew

Erik Johnson - Matt Hunwick

Jan Hejda - Ryan Wilson

Shane O'Brien - Ryan O'Byrne

Semyon Varlamov

Jean-Sebastien Giguere

Scratched: Greg Zanon, Tyson Barrie, Patrick Bordeleau

Injured: Milan Hejduk (torso), Steve Downie (knee), Erik Johnson (head), Ryan Wilson (questionable)


Brandon Saad - Jonathan Toews - Marian Hossa

Patrick Sharp - Dave Bolland - Patrick Kane

Bryan Bickell - Andrew Shaw - Viktor Stalberg

Daniel Carcillo - Marcus Kruger - Brandon Bollig

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook

Niklas Hjalmarsson - Johnny Oduya

Nick Leddy - Michael Rozsival

Ray Emery

Corey Crawford

Scratched: Jamal Mayers, Sheldon Brookbank, Michael Frolik

Injured: Steve Montador (upper body), Rostislav Olesz (lower body)

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