If you had this game circled on your calendar, you’re not the only one. Tonight, the top two teams in the Western Conference meet as the NHL-leading Wild hosts the Central Division-leading Chicago Blackhawks in front of an expected sellout crowd. Both teams come in to tonight’s game winning four of their last five. Minnesota is playing its first game at Xcel Energy Center in nearly two weeks and it has taken at least overtime to determine four of Chicago's last five.
If last night’s Wild matchup in Winnipeg is any indication of what next season’s realignment announcement has done for building animosity between clubs, tonight’s game should be an entertaining one for anyone watching as Minnesota and Chicago will be paired as divisional rivals next season.
The Wild has been battling the injury bug all season, and last night’s game in Winnipeg was no different. Matt Cullen was out with an illness, Pierre-Marc Bouchard took a hard cross check from behind from Zach Bogosian and was bleeding from the nose as he left the ice. Bouchard is out with a facial injury and Cullen will be a game-time decision. Marek Zidlicky could return to the lineup tonight as well. "Zid" has missed 13 games with a concussion, but has been practicing with the team and is a game-time decision. All three skated during the team's optional morning ice.
Last night, Guillaume Latendresse was inserted into the lineup after missing 14 games with a concussion, and made his presence felt immediately. Latendresse scored the Wild’s lone goal in a 2-1 loss to the Jets. The loss snapped a seven-game win streak and also broke a seven-game road win streak. Niklas Backstrom was spectacular in making 25 saves on 27 shots.
The Blackhawks are coming off of a 3-2 overtime victory against the San Jose Sharks, in Chicago on Sunday night. Patrick Sharp scored the winner at 4:26 of overtime. Andrew Brunette scored on deflection with 1:06 left in the third period and Blackhawks goalie Ray Emery pulled for an extra attacker to tie the game at 2. Emery made 28 saves in victory. Marcus Kruger kicked off Chicago’s scoring with a second period goal.
Wild vs. Blackhawks will be broadcast nationally in high definition on Versus with a start time at 6:30 PM. The game can be heard on KFAN 100.3 FM or online at Wild.com.
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The game’s early start time of 6:30 p.m. is because of the national broadcast on Versus. All fans in attendance will receive a Pierre-Marc Bouchard collect & win trading card.
The Hawks have a bevy of offensive with four players in the top 15 of NHL scoring. Captain Jonathan Toews leads the team (17 + 15 = 32), while Patrick Sharp (16 + 15 = 31), Marian Hossa (12 + 19 = 31) and Patrick Kane (8 + 23 = 31) round out one of the most potent offenses in the NHL.
Picking up assists on Latendresse’s goal last night, Dany Heatley and Mikko Koivu continue their point scoring streaks. Koivu has a five-game point streak and Heatley has recorded a point in seven straight. Koivu leads the team in scoring while Heatley is following close behind.
After having its franchise record seven-game win streak snapped, the Wild will look to start a new streak right away. So far this year, the Wild has played well in the second night of back-to-backs, going 2-0-1. At this time, Matt Cullen’s status is unknown, so the Wild recalled Warren Peters from Houston.
Last night, the Wild were forced to juggle the lines with Cullen out. Latendresse did score, but Head Coach Mike Yeo said that he would have like for him to have had a few more practices before jumping into a game. With Cullen and Bouchard as game-time decisions, expect to see more line shifting.
With Bouchard out, the forward lines are up in the air depending on Cullen's availability:
If Zidlicky makes his return, it is unknown which D-man will come out. If Zid isn't in, the blue line should remain the same:
Backstrom was solid again yesterday and will get the start tonight. He's 4-6-0 with a .917 save percentage in his career against Chicago.
Nate Prosser was reassigned to Houston today, so the healthy scratches will be a game-time decision.
Bouchard (facial injury) will be out tonight. Cullen (illness) and Zidlicky (concussion) are game-time decisions. Justin Falk (upper body) and Josh Harding (upper body) have been practicing but are not expected to play tonight. Devin Setoguchi (lower body) will not play.
"We were pretty loose in a lot of areas. It led to a little too much open ice for them and a little too much back and forth. When you do that, you turn it into a 50-50 game."
- Mike Yeo on last night’s game in Winnipeg
Brunette skated six seasons (2001-04, 2008-11) with the Wild and ranks second on the team’s leaders in goals (119), points (321) and PPG (55), and fourth in assists (202)… LW John Scott appeared in 71 games with Minnesota (2008-10)…D Nick Leddy was the Wild’s first round pick (16th overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft and won a State Championship with Eden Prairie...D Sean O'Donnell was the Wild's first captain in 2000.
The Wild has scored first three games straight despite allowing the first goal in 18 games this season. The Wild is 12-6-0 when allowing the first goal.