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Wild will look for way to cool off Blackhawks

by Matthew Mankiewich
BLACKHAWKS (31-10-3) at WILD (21-20-3)

Last 10 -- Chicago 8-2-0; Minnesota 4-6-0

Season series -- Both of their first two meetings were convincing wins for the Blackhawks, but both were at the United Center in Chicago, where the Hawks are 20-4-1. The series now shifts to the Xcel Energy Center, where the Wild are more than capable of holding serve at 13-6-1. It's only been four days since the two teams last met, though, so the Wild will be bearing the full brunt of a team that is clicking like no other.

Big story -- It's hard to find a team hotter than the Blackhawks, winners of 12 of 14 since Dec. 13 and now holding the top spot in the Western Conference as a result, two points ahead of the Sharks going into Saturday's action. They've won four of five on the road and four in a row overall, a good sign for them as they play nine of the next 11 away from home, including an eight-game road swing to close out January.

In Minnesota, a 12-4 stretch kept them in the playoff mix up to the final days of 2009, but a four-game slide has caused them to fall back a bit, now eight points behind the Kings for the eighth seed. Starting this current four-game homestand with a 4-1 win over the Flames was a definite confidence boost.

Team scope:

Blackhawks --
They made it to the top by having a lot of their offensive weapons find their hand at the same time. They've scored four goals or more in eight consecutive games, built 5-0 leads in home wins over the Devils and Ducks and blew open a tie game in St. Louis with four unanswered goals.

Lately, they've even been able to spot teams a lead before steamrolling them, as they did with the Wild on Tuesday, allowing the first goal before taking over and winning 4-1, and giving the Bruins two goals to work with, usually enough for them with the defense they have, then laying on the smackdown in a 5-2 road win.

"We have a lot of confidence. I think a lot of that comes from just knowing the fact we have … so many guys who can put the puck in the net," said defenseman Duncan Keith, who had two goals and an assist in the win. "I think that just gives us confidence, knowing that we can score some goals if we're down some."

Wild --
Long scoring slumps are rarely ended by pretty goals, and Kyle Brodziak's on Wednesday certainly wasn't a work of art, a slow bouncer that happened to be right on net. It was his first since Nov. 5 (29 games), and not for a lack of good scoring chances.

"One shot that I don't get anything on finds a way into the net," Brodziak told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "And of course a couple minutes later I get a good shot and I hit the post again.

"We did all the things we've been talking about all year. Tonight was probably the closest we've done to putting our whole game together."

Who's hot --
Patrick Kane has received a lot of ink lately and he's produced numbers to back it all up. He has nine goals and seven assists in a personal-best 10-game point streak, five goals and five assists in an eight-game road point streak.

Keith has five points in his last three games, including two goals and an assist in Boston. Marian Hossa was shut out in the Boston game, but had back-to-back two-goal games against Anaheim and Minnesota.

For the Wild, Eric Belanger has eight points in eight games. Martin Havlat has points in 12 of his last 14 games, including a current six-game point streak.

Injury report --
Blackhawks defenseman Cam Barker (upper body) has missed the last two games, but could return Saturday. Wild defenseman Clayton Stoner re-aggravated a groin injury this week and missed Wednesday's game and Friday's practice. He remains day-to-day.

Stat pack --
Cristobal Huet is 3-1-0 with a 1.26 goals-against average in his last four games versus the Wild and has limited them to one goal in each of his two wins this season. On the Wild side, Niklas Backstrom is 3-3-0 with a 2.02 GAA lifetime against the Blackhawks. The Wild are 5-for-59 on the power play over the last 16 games. Minnesota has split its last six home games. The Wild had allowed at least four goals in each of their four straight losses.

Puck drop --
The Wild have a historically strong home-ice advantage, but the Blackhawks have been an absolute juggernaut the past few weeks. Slowing them down will be no small feat, but would reap huge returns for a team trying to stay in the playoff running.

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