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Wild Set For Final Matchup With Hawks

by Mike Doyle / Minnesota Wild

The Minnesota Wild’s four-game road trip has gone by in a breeze, tonight concluding in the Windy City. The Wild closes out its season series against a banged up Chicago Blackhawks squad. After last year’s first round exit to the hands of the Hawks, the Wild has owned Chicago this season, going 3-1-0 against the defending Stanley Cup champions.

Minnesota will start its fourth goaltender against Chicago this season, Ilya Bryzgalov. Speaking to the media after practice, Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo joked that the Wild was “trying to keep them guessing” with the different starting goaltenders.

When the Wild acquired Bryzgalov before the NHL Trade Deadline, he was expected to provide a few quality starts to give Darcy Kuemper a little rest from time to time. But Kuemper is out with an upper-body injury and Bryzgalov has stepped up with his time in Minnesota. He’s 4-0-2 since coming to the State of Hockey.

“Looking at our situation, we’re real happy the way that he’s come in and the way he’s played,” Yeo said. “Looking forward to keeping that going.”

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After two-straight third period comebacks, the Wild will try to keep its win streak rolling against the Hawks. There will be a few lineup changes, as Mikael Granlund will be out after suffering an upper-body injury against the Los Angeles Kings on Monday. Rookie Erik Haula will move up to the second line between Matt Moulson and Jason Pominville.

“I’m super exited,” Haula said. “It’s a great opportunity. We’re in a tight race with teams playing well below us, so all the games are going to be crucial.”

Haula proved himself as a speedy option on the fourth line, who can provide offensive help while maintaining defensive responsibility. Now, he’ll be asked to play a more pivotal role in the Wild’s offense on the second line, something he’s been working towards all season.

“I want to keep taking little steps as the year goes on and keep learning; I think I’ve been able to do that pretty well,” Haula said.

Also injured during the Wild’s last outing in Los Angeles was Nino Niederreiter. Yeo said that the team will sit him as a precautionary measure. Replacing Niederreiter will be Dany Heatley. He’ll return to the lineup for the first time in two games on the fourth line with Jake Dowell and Stephane Veilleux. Dowell was recalled from Iowa yesterday and is stoked to join a team in the playoff hunt.

“That’s one of the most important things, that these are meaningful games, these aren’t just games at the end of the year where a team has locked up a playoff spot or is out of the playoffs,” Dowell said. “I’m excited to be a part of it and help out however I’m asked to do it.”

Blackhawks Down

Chicago will be without its two superstars tonight, as both Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are out with injuries. Toews suffered an upper-body injury in the team’s last outing against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Blackhawks Head Coach Joel Quenneville said that Kane could begin skating as soon as tomorrow after suffering a leg injury in mid-March.

Tonight, Andrew Shaw will take over as center on the top line. Quenneville said that he has big shoes to fill, but needs to play his game. In fact, the Blackhawks’ bench boss echoed those sentiments for his entire lineup with the team’s two best players missing.

The Hawks have lost three-consecutive games heading into tonight. The team is pretty much assured an opening round matchup with the Colorado Avalanche in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, it doesn’t want to glide into the postseason.

“We want to turn it on right now,” Quenneville said. “We don’t want to wait until that first game.”

Blum Named Specialty Man

Defenseman Jonathon Blum has been named the team’s winner of the IOA/American Specialty AHL Man of the Year award for his outstanding contributions to the Des Moines community during the 2013-14 season.

Along with his fiancée Emilie, the pair has been ambassadors for the Iowa Wild organization in the Greater Des Moines area. Blum participated in various school visits throughout the season as part of the Wild About Reading Program and was proactive in community outreach.

In a partnership with Defending the Blue Line, Blum donated his personal tickets for each Iowa Wild home game to local military families. After creating the donation program, he appropriately named it "Blum's Brigade” and invited them to meet outside of the locker room after the game to personally thank them for the service and dedication to our country.

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