For the first time since a Patrick Kane overtime goal ended a 6-game second round playoff series between the Blackhawks and the Minnesota Wild, the two division rivals are set to face off again tonight in Chicago. It's the finale of a three game road trip for the Wild.
The Blackhawks come into this one off a dominating effort against the Calgary Flames on Sunday night, and look to get continue their current NHL dominance. The 'Hawks are 9-1-0 in their last 10 games, and have taken control of the Central Division after a slower start to the season than anticipated.
The big news for the Blackhawks in this one is that they will be without their top defensemen Duncan Keith, who is out with an illness. At this time, it is not known or suspected whether Keith has become the latest NHL star affected by mumps. I saw it mentioned on Twitter that it could just be that Keith caught something from being around his young children, which is definitely a possibility. But with the current mumps outbreak, it might be better for the 'Hawks to assume its that and treat Keith as such.
Losing Keith will certainly hurt the 'Hawks in this one, as the Wild play a fast game akin to that of the Blackhawks. However, the defensive core that Joel Quenneville has is probably good enough to survive a few games without their leader. Brent Seabrook has a habit of stepping up when needed, and the 'Hawks will rely on him to fill that #1 defenseman role tonight and for however long Keith is out.
It'll be interesting to see what defensive pairings Joel Quenneville puts together without Keith. David Rundblad will probably have to play tonight, but he hasn't played well enough this season for Q to feel confident with him anywhere but the third pair. It might mean moving newly acquired Tim Erixon up to that top pair with Seabrook, and keeping Rundblad on the third pair with Michal Roszival. We'll probably see some shortening up of the bench if the 'Hawks defense doesn't perform well.
Opponent Breakdown: Minnesota Wild
After taking the NHL somewhat by surprise and eliminating top-seeded Colorado in the first round of the Central Division playoffs and then giving the Blackhawks a tougher matchup than anticipated, the WIld had some high expectations both for themselves and from others around the NHL going into this season. They haven't quite matched up, as they've won just 16 games to this point, and find themselves 5th in the Central Division, out of a playoff position. They have played just 28 games though, which is an NHL low so far.
Despite having a lot of forward talent, the Wild have been just average offensively this season, as they sit at 14th in the NHL in goals per game at 2.82. They have been pretty good defensively, however, as they're 9th in the league in goals against per game, at just 2.46. Given that the 'Hawks are 2nd in that department at 1.97, this could end up being a low scoring game.
Minnesota has been pretty inconsistent of late, going 5-4-1 in their last 10 games. Given the 'Hawks recent run of success, this could be a chance for the 'Hawks to keep it going against a team who is struggling to find their form right now. However, the Wild are sure to come out strong in an effort to slow the 'Hawks down and build some momentum for themselves. Given the teams' similar playing style, this is sure to be a fast-paced, fun game to watch.
Blackhawks: Duncan Keith (illness), Corey Crawford (lower body), Trevor van Riemsdyk (lower body)
Wild: Matt Cooke (lower body), Keith Ballard (facial fractures)
When: 7:30 p.m. CT
Where: United Center