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Wild open homestand against Blackhawks

by David Kalan

BLACKHAWKS (29-5-4) at WILD (22-14-2)


Last 10: Chicago 6-3-1; Minnesota 6-4-0.

Season series: The Chicago Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild have split two games this season. The Blackhawks won their last meeting, 5-3, on March 5 at United Center.

Big story: Chicago became the first team to punch its ticket to the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs by virtue of its win against the Nashville Predators on Sunday, but that hardly means it's time to rest. The Blackhawks still have work to do as they look to seal up the Western Conference's top seed, and they'll get a stiff test from a Wild team that is trying to keep pace with the Vancouver Canucks in the hunt for the Northwest Division crown.

Team Scope:

Blackhawks: In a development that should surprise no one given their start, the Blackhawks became the first team to officially clinch a postseason berth Sunday when they rallied from a 3-2 third-period deficit with three goals against Nashville. The win was the fourth in five games for Chicago, which seems likely to coast to a Central Division title as the season winds down.

What is not assured, however, is the top seed in the West or the Presidents' Trophy. While the Blackhawks have the edge in both races -- and at least a game in hand on their closest challengers, the majority of their closing schedule is against teams that are either in playoff position or fighting for a berth of their own. Of their past 10 games, the Blackhawks play an even split of five at home and five on the road, but that may as well be irrelevant. Considering Chicago's home record (14-3-2) and road record (15-2-2) the team tends to play well just about everywhere.

Wild: After pulling into a dog fight with Vancouver atop the Northwest, Minnesota has promptly tumbled back into second place. The Wild likely have their three-game skid at the beginning of April to blame for that considering their record in March (11-4-0) was among the best in the League. Minnesota put an end to its losing streak Sunday in Columbus thanks to recently-acquired Jason Pominville, who had his first two points as a member of the Wild in the 3-0 win.

Fortunately for the Wild, their game Tuesday with Chicago will open a three-game homestand. Minnesota plays six of its next nine games at Xcel Energy Center, and given that the Wild are significantly better at home (13-4-1) than on the road (9-10-1), that can only be a boon as they look to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in five years.

Who's hot: Few 20-year-olds experience a tear quite like Chicago's Brandon Saad, who has five goals and two assists in his last five games. ... Pominville has four points in his past three games dating back to his final outing with the Buffalo Sabres.

Injury report: The League's top team is likely to get even better Tuesday night, as Patrick Sharp (shoulder injury) is expected to return to the lineup after missing more than a month. Dave Bolland (foot injury) will miss his third game in a row, however. Minnesota did suffer a significant blow in Columbus when Dany Heatley injured his shoulder. Heatley will have surgery Tuesday and is likely to miss the rest of the regular season. Matt Cullen (lower-body injury) has missed three straight games and is questionable.

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