Wild take on short-handed Blackhawks in Chicago

By The Sports NetworkApril 3, 2014 at 11:00 AM
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(SportsNetwork.com) - The Minnesota Wild will try for a third straight victory on Thursday night when they visit a Chicago Blackhawks club that is without two of its top offensive performers.

The Wild have strengthened their bid for a wild card spot by winning back-to- back games following a 2-4-2 slump as the club went 6-5-4 in the month of March. Still, Minnesota owns a four-point lead for one of the two extra playoff berths in the Western Conference with six games to play.

Minnesota trails Chicago by 10 points for third place in the Central Division and the Blackhawks have already clinched a playoff berth.

The Wild rallied for a 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Monday, with Mikko Koivu and Matt Moulson scoring 62 seconds apart in the third period.

Zach Parise had a goal and an assist, while Ilya Bryzgalov made 18 saves to remain unbeaten in regulation with the Wild.

"We should feel good about this game, and then we will focus on our next one," said Minnesota head coach Mike Yeo. "Beyond that nothing matters to me right now. I think that this is a game that our guys deserve to take the night here. We have a couple days before our next challenge, but I think they should feel good about this one."

Yeo's club lost forwards Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter to upper-body injuries in the game, while netminder Darcy Kuemper did not dress because of a lower-body issue suffered during morning skate on Monday.

Niederreiter is questionable for this game, but Granlund and Kuemper are out. The Wild recalled goaltender John Curry and forward Jake Dowell from Iowa of the American Hockey League on Wednesday.

However, the injuries could get forward Dany Heatley back into the lineup. He has been a healthy scratch for the past two games.

Defenseman Keith Ballard also is questionable for tonight after having missed the Wild's past eight games due to a strained groin.

The Wild conclude a four-game road trip tonight and will likely turn to Bryzgalov, who is 4-0-2 with a 2.16 goals against average since being acquired from the Edmonton Oilers. He is 8-6-4 versus the Blackhawks lifetime with a 2.55 GAA.

Chicago is dealing with its own injury issues, but has room for error due to having already clinched a playoff spot.

The Blackhawks, though, are three points behind the Colorado Avalanche for second place in the Central Division with one more game played. They have been without Patrick Kane since March 19 because of a left leg injury, then lost captain and fellow forward Jonathan Toews to an upper-body ailment in Sunday's 4-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Kane was already expected to miss the rest of the regular season and the Blackhawks announced on Wednesday that Toews also will be out until the start of the playoffs.

Chicago was struggling, though, before losing Toews and Sunday's loss gave the club a winless three-game road trip. The Blackhawks have lost four of their past five overall and are trying to avoid losing four straight in regulation for the first time this season.

Chicago did go winless in four games from Jan. 22-28, posting an 0-2-2 mark.

"The way we've been playing lately is frustrating for all of us," said Chicago forward Patrick Sharps. "But we're not trying to lay blame on any one person, we're just trying to figure a way to get out of it."

Sheldon Brookbank scored and Corey Crawford stopped 23-of-26 shots on Monday for the Blackhawks.

Chicago is scheduled to visit the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday and tonight will go with Crawford in net. He is 4-3-2 with a 2.44 GAA in his career versus the Wild.

The Wild have won three of their four meetings with the Blackhawks this season, including a 5-3 victory in Chicago back on Oct. 26.


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