BLACKHAWKS (31-16-2) at SHARKS (26-17-6)
TV: SN, CSN-CH, CSN-CA
SAN JOSE -- After consecutive victories against the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks, the San Jose Sharks will try to make it three straight wins against elite Western Conference teams when they face the Chicago Blackhawks at SAP Center on Saturday.
The Sharks have struggled at times against some of the NHL's worst teams, but they've typically played well against upper echelon opponents. They're 4-0-1 against Anaheim and 2-1-0 against the Kings this season.
"We just get up for those games," Sharks center Logan Couture said after San Jose's morning skate. "Crowd's into it. A different atmosphere I guess. It feels different coming to the rink when you play against those teams. We need to play better every night, more consistently, but it's nice that we're beating those teams because they're a couple of the best teams in the league."
Getting up for the Blackhawks shouldn't be a problem for San Jose.
"Anytime you play Chicago, there's a lot of Chicago fans in the rink, and that makes for a cool atmosphere," Couture said. "They're a very good team; they're always around at the end of the year in the playoffs. They go deep every year. They're going to be a challenge. They beat Anaheim last night. So we know it's not going to be an easy one for us."
The Blackhawks beat the Ducks 4-1 on Friday at Honda Center and will face the Sharks on the back end of back-to-back games. The Sharks lost to Chicago 5-2 on Nov. 9 at United Center, playing one night after beating the Dallas Stars 5-3.
The Blackhawks, who didn't have a morning skate Saturday, are expected to start backup goaltender Antti Raanta against San Jose and fellow Finnish goalie Antti Niemi.
Raanta actually has better numbers than No. 1 Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford. Raanta, who has never faced San Jose, is 7-3-0 with a 1.88 goals-against average and .938 save percentage this season. Crawford is 19-11-2 with a 2.28 GAA and .920 save percentage.
"His numbers are very good, when you look at his save percentage," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "The group in front of him plays a pretty good game defensively. They don't get enough credit for that. They're always talked about offensively. So he gets some protection from them. Big goaltender that makes a lot of saves when they're needed."
Niemi, who helped the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup in 2010, is 6-7-1 overall against his former team, but 5-1-0 at SAP Center. He said he still gets excited whenever he plays Chicago.
"It's fun to play against them," Niemi said. "A big challenge."
The Blackhawks, according to McLellan, present a different challenge than the Kings and Ducks.
"They are very fast," McLellan said. "I don't know if they are really skating fast, but the plays they make, the tic-tac-toe plays, if you get dragged out of position or are lazy at any point, they'll make you pay. Some of the other teams out here are bigger, heavier, more meaty type teams. This team is built on speed and skill."
Here are the projected lineups:
Brandon Saad - Jonathan Toews - Marian Hossa
Patrick Sharp - Brad Richards - Patrick Kane
Bryan Bickell - Andrew Shaw - Teuvo Teravainen
Joakim Nordstrom - Marcus Kruger - Ben Smith
Duncan Keith - David Rundblad
Niklas Hjalmarsson - Brent Seabrook
Michal Rozsival - Johnny Oduya
Scratched: Dennis Rasmussen, Tim Erixon
Suspended: Daniel Carcillo
Injured: Kris Versteeg (hand), Trevor van Riemsdyk (knee)
Melker Karlsson - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski
Patrick Marleau - Logan Couture - Matt Nieto
Tomas Hertl - James Sheppard - Barclay Goodrow
John Scott - Andrew Desjardins - Tye McGinn
Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Brent Burns
Brenden Dillon - Matt Tennyson
Matt Irwin - Scott Hannan
Scratched: Mirco Mueller, Daniil Tarasov
Injured: Raffi Torres (knee), Mike Brown (lower body), Tommy Wingels (left hand), Justin Braun (left hand), Tyler Kennedy (lower body)
Status report: Kennedy skated with the team for the first time since being injured Tuesday during practice. He said he had a muscle spasm during practice and decided it would be wiser to rest than risk a more serious injury. "It's a little step back, but I'm starting to feel good again," Kennedy said. "I'm glad it's nothing too serious." ... Carcillo will serve the final game of his six-game suspension for a cross-check on the Winnipeg Jets' Mathieu Perreault.
Who's hot: Pavelski has a three-game goal streak and a four-game point streak (3-2-5). ... Marleau has a two-game goal streak and seven points (3-4-7) in his past five games. ... Kane, coming off a two-goal game against Anaheim, has a two-game goal streak, and nine points (5-4-9) in his past five games. ... Sharp matched his career high with four assists against Anaheim and has nine points (1-8-9) in his past five games. ... Keith has a four-game point streak (1-3-4).