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Wild to end road trip at Chicago

by Tal Pinchevsky /
WILD (24-19-5) at BLACKHAWKS (26-19-4)

TV — FS-N (HD), FS-WI (HD)

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

Season series — It's the second of four meetings this season between two teams jockeying for position in the Western-Conference standings. It's been almost three months since their only other matchup of the 2010-11 campaign, a 3-1 Blackhawks' win on Oct. 30th in which Duncan Keith scored the winner and added an assist.

Big story — In a Western-Conference race in which only 10 points separate fourth-place Nashville from 14th-place Calgary, every team but Edmonton appears poised to make a move. For both teams, this will be their final game before the All-Star break gives most of their players a chance to retool for the upcoming playoff push. For the Blackhawks, that post-break push will immediately begin with a six-game road swing that will precede a rematch with the Wild in Chicago on Feb. 16th.

Team scope:

Wild — Tuesday's game in Chicago should elicit mixed emotions from the Wild. On the one hand, it will mark the end of a four-game road trip, but it will also be their last game in January, a month that has been very kind to the Wild. Minnesota has so far enjoyed a 7-4-0 record in January, their best mark in any month this season.

The strong January record comes in spite of a 4-3 loss on Saturday in San Jose in which the Wild were outshot 42-26. Brent Burns scored with 3:25 left to bring Minnesota to within a goal, but the Wild could not complete the comeback.

"We weren't very crisp and we didn't handle the puck very well," defenseman Clayton Stoner said. "They put a lot of pressure on us and we didn't handle that. Nobody is happy with that performance."

Blackhawks — Despite Sunday's  4-1 loss to Philadelphia in a rematch of last year’s Stanley Cup Finals, Chicago has been on a tear, going 5-1-1 in their last seven games. That run includes a resounding 4-1 win on Saturday over division rival Detroit.

Against the Flyers, Marian Hossa’s penalty-shot goal brought the Hawks to within 3-1, but Chicago would come no closer as Scott Hartnell's empty-netter sealed the win for Philadelphia. Despite outshooting Philly 11-6 in the third, Chicago was outscored 3-1 in that period, handing them their first regulation loss since Jan. 5th.

"They scored the all-important first goal," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "They got the momentum and we couldn't get it back."

Who's hot — Wild captain Mikko Koivu had two goals in San Jose and has 12 points in his last 11 games. … For Chicago, Tomas Kopecky scored twice against Detroit before the loss against Philadelphia ended his three-game point streak, in which he had five points.

Injury report — Wild defenseman Nick Schultz went down in San Jose with an upper body injury and is questionable for Tuesday, as are defenseman Marco Scandella and goalie Jose Theodore. James Sheppard (knee), Josh Harding (ACL/MCL), Guillaume Latendresse (hernia/hip), and Marek Zidlicky (shoulder) are all on IR. The Blackhawks will be icing a healthy lineup.

Stat pack — Tuesday's game could come down to special teams. Chicago boasts the League’s top power play while Minnesota is ranked sixth with the extra man. While the Wild’s penalty kill is ranked eleventh overall, only three teams are worse than Chicago when down a man.

Puck drop — The Wild hope to come away with a win over the Blackhawks, but the trip to Chicago will still be a memorable one. Earlier in the week, Minnesota had their annual rookie dinner in Chicago, where they ran into sports superstars Michael Strahan and Charles Barkley. According to a couple of sources, Barkley and Strahan spent time conversing and dining with the Wild at Chicago Cut Steakhouse. Former Blackhawk John Madden chose the location.

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