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Playoff rivals back at it as Blackhawks host Wild

by Brian Hedger /

WILD (5-3-3) at BLACKHAWKS (6-1-3)


Last 10: Minnesota 5-3-2

Season series: This will be the first of five games between the Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks and the opener of a home-and-home set. The Wild play in Chicago twice this season and don't return to United Center until April 3, about two weeks before the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs begin. The Blackhawks won two of three regular-season games against the Wild in 2013 and then beat Minnesota in five games in their Western Conference Quarterfinals series on the way to winning the 2013 Stanley Cup.

Big story: Minnesota might be without goalie Josh Harding for a period of time, after he got hurt in the second period of the Wild's 3-1 victory Thursday at Xcel Energy Center. Harding, who left with an undisclosed lower-body injury, shined for nine games as Niklas Backstrom's injury replacement. Chicago is coming off a strange 6-5 overtime loss on the road Thursday against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Team Scope:

Wild: Despite saying he doesn't feel 100 percent recovered from a sprained knee, Backstrom relieved Harding for the third period against the Hurricanes and didn't allow a goal against on seven shots to preserve the win on "Harding's Hope Night," which benefited the charity the goaltender started after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Following the game, coach Mike Yeo didn't offer an update on Harding's injury, but Friday morning the Wild recalled rookie goaltender Johan Gustafsson from Iowa of the American Hockey League. He'll back up Backstrom.

"I thought [Backstrom] played great in this game, coming in in a tough situation," Yeo said Thursday night. "I thought he looked really good, but when you've been off as long as he's been off, the most important thing is [Friday's] practice."

Blackhawks: Chicago also had a goaltending issue Thursday, but it wasn't injury-related. It was the fact 40-year-old backup Nikolai Khabibulin allowed all six goals, including the overtime game-winner scored off a rebound that probably should've been gloved. The bright side is the Blackhawks scoring four goals on their own and being credited with a fifth that tied it 5-5 late in the third when Lightning defenseman Matt Carle's pass into his own zone, from the red line, skipped off the right skate of teammate Radko Gudas and eluded goalie Ben Bishop. The Blackhawks also overcame an early 2-0 deficit, but wound up squandering a third-period lead for the third time this season.

"I thought we pretty much controlled the game, had a lot of shots on net and a lot of chances," right wing Patrick Kane said. "There were a couple more that we probably could've had that we didn't catch a break on. Maybe the hockey gods were giving us one on that last one. It's nice to score goals. We've just got to find a way to keep them out now, I guess."

Who's hot: Zach Parise broke a five-game goal drought with an even-strength tally against the Hurricanes and has points in back-to-back games, while Dany Heatley scored his first goal of the season Thursday for the Wild. … Bryan Bickell has scored goals in three straight games and Andrew Shaw has points in five of the past six games for Chicago, including his first goal of the season Thursday in Tampa.

Injury report: Aside from Harding, the Wild are without Jonas Brodin (fractured cheekbone), forward Charlie Coyle (sprained MCL), defenseman Keith Ballard (upper body) and forward Mike Rupp (lower body). … Chicago lost defenseman Michael Kostka (broken foot) for 4-6 weeks during their two-game road trip.

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