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Wild Warmup: Minnesota at Chicago

Central Division rivals clash for fourth and final time during regular season

by Dan Myers @1DanMyers / Wild.com
The essentials

Who: Minnesota Wild (43-17-6, 92 points, first place, Central Division) at Chicago Blackhawks (42-20-5, 89 points, second place, Central Division)

Puck drop: 11:33 a.m. CT

Watch: NBC; nbcsports.com/live;  Wild Watch Bar locationsNHL.TV

Listen: KFAN 100.3 FM

Follow: @mnwild; GameCenter


At the rink

There's still plenty of hockey left in the regular season before a winner is crowned in the Central Division. But Sunday's game between the Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center has a chance to be one that goes a long ways toward deciding an eventual champion.

The Wild begins the day three points ahead of the Blackhawks with one game in hand. Chicago, however, has momentum in the season series, having won each of the past two meetings -- both at Xcel Energy Center.

These two teams couldn't be more evenly matched, with both clubs at or near the top of most Western Conference statistical measures. 

Minnesota won the only game in Chicago, a 3-2 decision on Jan. 15. Chicago won in overtime in the first meeting in Minnesota on Feb. 8 and a 5-3 win (with an empty netter) just 13 days later.

Sunday's game marks the final game of the regular season between the rivals.

"We know it's going to be a tough one. They've been playing some great hockey," said Wild forward Zach Parise. "We know it's going to be a good game, a tough game and we're excited for the challenge."

The game Sunday could also set the table for a potential postseason meeting down the line. If it happens, it would be the fourth time in the past five years the clubs would play in the playoffs. 

But that's still quite a ways off. Wild coach Bruce Boudreau has stressed a week-by-week approach all season, and that means trying to earn a winning week with a victory against the Blackhawks.

"When you play Chicago, you want to win the game. That's the only impression I want to leave," Boudreau said. "They're gonna play with the same tenacity they've played against us in the first three. It's not going to be easy by any stretch of the imagination."

Video: Wild on Matchup with Chicago

Here are the projected lineups:

WILD

Nino Niederreiter - Eric Staal - Charlie Coyle

Jason Zucker - Mikko Koivu - Mikael Granlund

Zach Parise - Martin Hanzal - Jason Pominville

Chris Stewart - Erik Haula - Ryan White

Ryan Suter - Jared Spurgeon

Jonas Brodin - Nate Prosser

Marco Scandella - Matt Dumba

Devan Dubnyk

Darcy Kuemper

BLACKHAWKS

Nick Schmaltz - Jonathan Toews - Richard Panik

Artemi Panarin - Artem Anisimov - Patrick Kane

Tomas Jurco - Tanner Kero - Marian Hossa

Ryan Hartman - Marcus Kruger - Jordin Tootoo

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook

Brian Campbell - Trevor van Riemsdyk

Michal Kempny - Michal Rozsival

Corey Crawford

Scott Darling


The opponent

After winning seven consecutive games over a two-week span, the Chicago Blackhawks have lost each of their past two. Included in that stretch was a 1-0 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday night at the United Center when the Blackhawks outshot the Ducks by a 43-26 margin. In 10 games since returning from the bye, Patrick Kane has 10 goals and three assists, including a pair of hat tricks during that span. During that same stretch, Jonathan Toews has six goals and seven assists, including a hat trick to go along with two assists in Chicago's 5-3 win in St. Paul on Feb. 21.


Connections

• Wild coach Bruce Boudreau played in seven games for the Blackhawks during the 1985-86 season.

• Wild goaltending coach Bob Mason skated in 41 games for Chicago during the 1987-88 campaign.


March through March

Minnesota plays its fifth contest in a stretch where its final 20 games of the regular season are played in a 35-day span (March 5-April 8). The stretch includes four sets of back-to-back games and no more than one day between games. Starting Sunday, the final 16 contests are in a 28-day span.

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