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Wild begin quest for revenge vs. Blackhawks

by Brian Hedger



Season series: The Minnesota Wild won three of five games against the Chicago Blackhawks. Chicago won the most recent, 3-2 in a shootout April 3 at United Center, playing without forward Patrick Kane.

Big story: After playing each other in the 2013 Western Conference Quarterfinals, with Chicago winning in five games, the Blackhawks and Wild square off for a second straight year in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Each team, by definition, pulled off an upset in the Western Conference First Round. However, if either team is fit for the glass slipper of Cinderella it's the Wild after taking down the Central Division winner, the Colorado Avalanche, 5-4 in overtime of Game 7 on Wednesday.

Team Scope:

Wild: Minnesota got very little time to enjoy its victory in the first round before the coaching staff was into preparations for Chicago.

"[We] started working on the plane and came home and got a real, good, solid three hours of sleep," Wild coach Mike Yeo said Thursday in Chicago. "We've been back at it [Thursday]. There's not going to be an incredible amount of secrets."

One secret, at least until the puck drops, is who will start in goal for Minnesota. Darcy Kuemper had to leave Game 7 in the third period after banging his head during a fall earlier in the game. Yeo had no update on his status Thursday. Josh Harding, who missed the final 40 games of the regular season and the entire series against the Avalanche, will likely get back on the ice for workouts in Chicago but his playing status is unknown.

If Kuemper can't go, it likely will be up to Ilya Bryzgalov to face the Blackhawks. Forward Matt Cooke, serving a seven-game suspension for an illegal hit in the Colorado series, will continue to skate in practice and is eligible to return in Game 4.

Blackhawks: Chicago spent several weeks at the end of the regular season getting prepared for Colorado in what seemed to be a sure-bet matchup in the Western Conference First Round. Now the Blackhawks won't see the Avalanche until next season and must prepare for the Wild.

Chicago, third in the Central Division, eliminated the second-place St. Louis Blues in six first-round games, and the Blackhawks find themselves with the home-ice advantage after the Wild upset the Avalanche. The defending Stanley Cup Champions are being careful not to look too far ahead.

"We saw it last year against these guys in the playoffs too," forward Patrick Sharp said. "We were the top seed. They were the eighth seed and everybody just expected us to walk through the series. It was a tough series. I know it was a five-game series, but every game was close and they present a lot of challenges. So anyone that thinks it's going to be a one-sided series for either team is going to be mistaken. It's going to be close every game, just like the Blues series was and just like their series was with Colorado."

Captain Jonathan Toews did not practice Thursday at United Center because he was sick, but coach Joel Quenneville said he'd be "more than fine" to play in Game 1.

Who's hot: Wild forward Nino Niederreiter scored the first two playoff goals of his career Wednesday, including the overtime winner. He also had an assist. ... Toews has a four-game point streak and has scored a goal in three of the past four, including the final two against the Blues. All three of his goals against St. Louis were game-winners.

Injury report: Wild forward Jason Zucker (quadriceps), defenseman Keith Ballard (groin) and goalie Niklas Backstrom (abdominal surgery) are out. … The Blackhawks have their full assortment of players, aside from veteran goalie Nikolai Khabibulin, who's been out since Nov. 16 after rotator cuff surgery.

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