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GAME: Minnesota Wild (25-28-20-3) at Chicago Blackhawks (20-38-11-6).

TIME: Thursday, 8:30 p.m. EST.

It has been more than four months since Jocelyn Thibault last played. The Chicago Blackhawks will apparently have to wait one more game for his return.

Thibault, who has been out since Nov. 7 with a hip injury, was expected to rejoin the Blackhawks in time for their game with the visiting Minnesota Wild.

However, coach Brian Sutter said it is more likely Thibault will play Saturday against St. Louis.

While the Blackhawks await Thibault's return, they will again hope for an impressive performance from Michael Leighton.

Although Chicago has just one win in its last five games, Leighton played well in a 2-2 tie with Colorado on Tuesday, stopping 41 shots.

"This was all about heart and courage," Leighton said. "Colorado is a team that has a chance to win a Stanley Cup. We want to prove we can play with any team in the league. We might not be in the playoffs, but we will hang in there until the end."

Like the Blackhawks, the Wild will almost certainly miss out on the postseason. Minnesota, which advanced to the Western Conference finals last season, is currently in 12th place - nine points behind Nashville for the final playoff berth.

The Wild have dropped three straight, including a 2-0 loss to Columbus on Wednesday. Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire said he was disappointed with his team's inability to generate scoring chances.

"We came out flat and never could recover," Lemaire said. "We had power plays one after the other. One time it was a five-minute power play - and we couldn't generate nothing. We couldn't get a shot when it was time to make a shot, couldn't make the pass when it was time to make the pass."

STANDINGS: Wild - 73 points, 5th place, 21 PB, Northwest Division. Blackhawks - 57 points, 4th place, 42 PB, Central Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Wild - Andrew Brunette, 15 goals, 30 assists and 45 points; Matt Johnson, 161 PIM. Blackhawks - Tyler Arnason, 22 goals, 31 assists and 53 points; Scott Nichol and Travis Moen, 126 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through March 23): Wild - Power play: 12.9 percent (39 for 303), 28th in NHL. Penalty killing: 84.2 percent (223 for 265), 18th. Blackhawks - Power play: 15.5 percent (51 for 329), 19th. Penalty killing: 84.8 percent (295 for 348), 6th.

GOALTENDERS: Wild - Manny Fernandez (9-13-9, 2 SO, 2.45 GAA); Dwayne Roloson (16-17-11, 4, 1.89). Blackhawks - Leighton (6-18-8, 2, 2.99); Adam Munro (1-2-1, 0, 3.20).


LAST MEETING: Jan. 21; Wild, 4-2. At St. Paul, Minn., Jim Dowd put in a long rebound of his own slap shot to break a tie with 15.5 seconds left, and Richard Park added an empty net goal three seconds later to lead the Wild to just their second win in seven games.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Wild - 10-15-13-1 on the road; Blackhawks - 13-14-6-5 at home.

Associated Press
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