The last time the Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks met it was a nationally televised game and they were the top two teams in the Western Conference. The Hawks won the Dec. 14 game at Xcel Energy Center in a shootout, 4-3. Fast-forward to tonight, and the Hawks are in fourth in the conference and fighting for the top spot in the Central Division (its 55 points is tied with St. Louis and second best in the West, but the Blues have a game in hand) and the Wild is jockeying to keep pace with the top teams in the West. However, only five points separates the two teams in the standings. Both teams have struggled of late, but are still in good position to make a playoff run in the second half of the season.
Today, it was announced that Mikko Koivu will represent the Wild at this year’s All-Star Game. Koivu’s play in the first half of the season is a major reason Minnesota is among the top teams in the Western Conference. He has undoubtably been the Wild's best and most consistent forward.
Yesterday, Matt Hackett was recalled because Josh Harding was feeling ill. However, Harding is feeling better and will get the start tonight, and Hackett will be his backup because now Niklas Backstrom is feeling ill. The Wild's injuries seem to be contagious this season, but hopefully the bug that has been affecting the goaltenders won't travel anywhere outside of the crease.
In its last outing, the Wild won at home in a 5-4 shootout against the San Jose Sharks. On Tuesday night, Matt Cullen played in his 1,000th NHL game and it was quite a night for the Minnesota native. Cullen had a goal in regulation and the shootout-deciding goal. Warren Peters scored his first goal of the season, while Cal Clutterbuck and Nick Johnson also scored for Minnesota. Casey Wellman and Justin Falk added two assists apiece. Harding made 34 saves and two more in the shootout, earning the win.
Also on Tuesday, the Blackhawks beat up on the Columbus Blue Jackets, 5-2. Viktor Stalberg paced the Hawks, recording the first hat trick of his career. Dave Bolland and rookie Ben Smith also scored for Chicago. Corey Crawford made 32 saves in the victory.
Wild at Blackhawks will be broadcast locally in high definition on Fox Sport North with a start time at 7:30 PM. The game can be heard on KFAN 100.3 FM or online at Wild.com.
Click here to receive Minnesota Wild broadcast alerts/game day previews each Wild Game day.
Make sure you’re early because the first 10,000 fans will receive a Joel Quenneville Bobblehead. It is eerie how much the bobblehead looks like the Hawks head coach, right down to the precision trimmed ‘stache.
The Hawks have struggled of late, going 4-5-1 in its last ten games, and lost four straight before Tuesday’s win against Columbus. Chicago will be without high-scoring forward Patrick Sharp, out with a broken wrist. However, the Hawks still have plenty of offense with Marian Hossa (45 points), Patrick Kane (38 points) and Jonathan Towes (42 points), whose name is being tossed around in mid-season Hart Trophy debates.
Mikko Koivu is not getting nearly as much recognition as Towes, but there is a reason the Wild Captain was named to the Western Conference All-Star Team. The two-way playing center has scored a point in 17 of his last 21 games (8 goals, 15 assists during that stretch). He leads Minnesota in points (33), assists (24) and plus/minus rating (plus-9).
The Wild will have Devin Setoguchi back in the lineup after sitting out Tuesday’s game because because he missed a morning meeting. Setoguchi will return to the top line with Koivu and Dany Heatley. Since missing a month with a lower-body injury, Setoguchi has played in two games and registering an assist and nine shots on goal.
The Wild hopes Setoguchi’s return can spark some offense, especially on the power play. The Wild has not scored a power play goal in six games, going 0-for-14 during that stretch. Tonight would be a good opportunity to get the PP unit going against a Blackhawks team that ranks 26th in the NHL when shorthanded.
Colton Gillies left practice early yesterday with a lower-body injury so the Wild, so all twelve health forwards will be in the lineup:
"What we need right now is to go into every game and saying, ‘We need to be at our best tonight’… Sometimes it’s a little bit easier to do that against a team like San Jose or Chicago.”
- Mike Yeo on playing against the top teams in the Western Conference
Andrew 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 more wins against the Blackhawks (24) than any other team outside of the Northwest Division.