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Blackhawks vs. Sharks preview: Antti Battle, Raanta vs. Niemi in net

Chicago looks for back-to-back wins against Pacific Division

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Antti Raanta will make his first start of the second half as the Chicago Blackhawks visit the San Jose Sharks on Saturday at the SAP Center.

Both teams are coming off wins over the Anaheim Ducks, who lead the NHL with 70 points. The Blackhawks topped the Ducks 4-1 last night, while the Sharks handed their division rival a 6-3 loss Thursday.

Patrick Kane tallied two goals and an assist, while Patrick Sharp assisted all four goals against the Ducks. Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith also lit the lamp, while Corey Crawford made 21 saves. Chicago won the first of three meetings with the Sharks with a 5-2 decision at the United Center on Nov. 9. Toews had a goal and an assist as Crawford made 32 saves.

The Blackhawks play game four of a seven-game road trip tonight, and holds a four-point lead over the Winnipeg Jets for third place in the Central Divison and are only two points back of the St. Louis Blues.

Chicago is tied for the league-lead with 15 road victories, but Crawford started in each one. Raanta will face San Jose for the first time in his career. He is 7-3-0 with a 1.87 goals-against average, .939 save percentage and two shutouts in 11 games this season.

Opponent Breakdown: San Jose Sharks

San Jose received goals from six different players and Antti Niemi made 25 saves in their win over the Ducks.

Joe Pavelski scored a power-play goal and Brenden Dillon a shorthanded goal, while Patrick Marleau, Barclay Goodrow and James Sheppard each tallied a goal at even strength to improve to 3-1-1 during their seven-game homestand.

The Sharks are in second place in the Pacific Division, only one point ahead of the Vancouver Canucks and 12 behind the Ducks.

Pavelski is riding a four-game point streak with three goals and two assists. The 30-year-old has 24 career points in 27 games against the Blackhawks. He has scored a goal with the man-advantage in back-to-back games, but that will be hard to come by against one of the league's best penalty-killing units.

Chicago will face another tough defenseman in All-Star Brent Burns, who has 36 points (11G, 25A) this season. Burns is moved around from the blue line to forward depending on match ups and has excelled at both spots, but he has just posted one point in his last five outings.

The Sharks will call on Niemi, who is 6-7-1 against his former team with a 2.94 GAA and .910 save percentage in 14 outings. Saturday's game will feature the match ups of the Anttis. Mirror, mirror on the wall; who is the fairest Antti of them all?

Injury Report

ChicagoKris Versteeg (hand) and Trevor van Riemsdyk (knee)

San Jose: Tyler Kennedy (lower-body), Justin Braun (hand), Tommy Wingles (hand), Mike Brown (lower-body) and Raffi Torres (knee)

Game Information

When: 9:30 p.m. CT

Where: SAP Center


Radio: WGN-720

NOTE: I'll be adding a music video of a band or musician from the opposition's city. Today, The Doobie Brothers.

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