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Wild-Blackhawks Preview

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Wild-Blackhawks Preview

GAME: Minnesota Wild (22-21-4) at Chicago Blackhawks (16-26-6).

TIME: Sunday, 7 p.m. EST.

Minnesota Wild coach Jacques Lemaire is known noted for rotating his goaltenders regardless of how well or poorly they are performing. Manny Fernandez appears to have Lemaire reconsidering that thinking.

Fernandez will likely get the chance to win his third consecutive start as the Wild go for a sweep of the home-and-home series against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center.

For most of the season, Lemaire has alternated Fernandez and Dwayne Roloson. But since stopping 29 shots in a 2-1 win Dec. 19 over Dallas, Fernandez has seen more playing time and responded.

Starting with that victory, Fernandez has gone 8-3 with a 1.94 goals-against average, including five straight wins to begin the stretch.

Roloson, meanwhile, has made just five starts during that span, going 1-4 with a 4.30 GAA.

Fernandez had 31 saves in a 4-1 win Friday over Chicago.

"There's nights when the other team doesn't get a lot of shots on you and keep you fresh," said Fernandez, who faced 44 total shots in his previous two starts. "It seems like tonight they were shooting everything.

"They were shooting from the outside a lot to try and get some rebounds and I seemed to be in good position and then the 'D' really helped me out on a couple."

Fernandez, an original member of Wild, needs two wins to match his career high of 19 set in 2000-01 and equaled two seasons later.

Chicago continues to play some of its worst hockey of the season, having dropped 16 of 20 since last posting consecutive wins Dec. 7 against the New York Rangers and Dec. 11 over Atlanta.

The Blackhawks also continue to pile up penalties, having been called for a league-high 351. They have been whistled for 34 infractions in the last five games, allowing seven power-play goal in that span.

"We can't expect to take so many penalties and expect to win a game," said Nikolai Khabibulin, who made 28 saves in Friday's loss, his first in two games after missing 10 with a groin injury.

He stopped a season-high 37 shots in Chicago's 4-2 win over Colorado on Thursday.

Khabibulin, who despite struggling in his first season with Chicago will represent Russia at next month's Turin Olympics, is 2-3-0 in his career against the Wild, including a 15-save performance Oct. 23 in a 4-2 Blackhawks victory.

STANDINGS: Wild - 48 points, 5th place, 13 PB, Northwest Division. Blackhawks - 38 points, 3rd place, 29 PB, Central Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Wild - Brian Rolston, 18 goals, 28 assists and 46 points; Derek Boogaard, 82 PIM. Blackhawks - Mark Bell, 16 goals; Tyler Arnason, 23 assists and 34 points; Matthew Barnaby, 113 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Wild - Power play: 18.2 percent (48 for 264), 14th in NHL. Penalty killing: 88.7 percent (228 for 257), 1st. Blackhawks - Power play: 13.1 percent (34 for 260), 30th. Penalty killing: 84.9 percent (298 for 351), 4th.

GOALTENDERS: Wild - Fernandez (17-7-3, 1 SO, 2.02 GAA); Roloson (5-14-1, 1, 2.99). Blackhawks - Khabibulin (12-18-3, 3.32); Adam Munro (2-0-2, 1.92).

SEASON SERIES: 1-1.

LAST MEETING: Friday; Wild, 4-1. At St. Paul, Minn., Foster had a goal and assist as the Wild completed a seven-game homestand with a 3-4 mark.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Wild - 8-11-3 on the road; Blackhawks - 9-11-3 at home.


Associated Press
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