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Blackhawks head north of the border to face the high-flying Jets

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Can the Hawks make it four in a row?

NHL: Florida Panthers at Chicago Blackhawks Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

(Ed. note: Technical difficulties delayed the arrival of this one. Our apologies.)

Feels like it’s been an annual tradition lately: the Winnipeg Jets are a sexy pick as a breakout team for the upcoming NHL season, but they end up in yet another disappointing this season.

That doesn’t appear to the case this year. And the Chicago Blackhawks will get their first glimpse of the Jets this season when they head to Winnipeg on Thursday night for a big Central Division matchup.

It’s mainly the stars leading the way for Winnipeg. Blake Wheeler is averaging over a point per game, with 38 points tallied in just 31 contests. Mark Scheifele has 14 goals and 35 total points, while Patrik Laine is following up his stellar rookie season with a team-high 15 goals. Connor Helleybuck may be the biggest revelation this winter, however. The 24-year-old netminder has cemented his status as this team’s No. 1 goalie, posting a 16-3-4 record while allowing 2.44 goals per game with an impressive .920% save percentage.

Winnipeg has been hard to beat at home this season, with the Jets putting up an 11-2-1 mark when playing in Manitoba. And within the Central Division, the Jets are an even more impressive 5-1-1, although none of those victories have come at the hands of the Hawks yet. One small lineup change in Winnipeg is noteworthy for Hawks fans, with old friend Dustin Byfuglien heading to IR with a lower-body injury that will have him out until after Christmas.

Chicago has its own lineup changes as well, with Cody Franson heading to IR and Ville Pokka getting his first call-up to the Blackhawks. But it appears his NHL debut won’t happen yet, as Michal Kempny is expected to get the nod while Connor Murphy flips over to the right side to accommodate Kempny in the lineup. How the D pairings will shake out is a mystery to be solved during the pregame skate.

It’s true that the Chicago Blackhawks are on a three-game winning streak after earning all six points at the United Center in the last week. But any Hawks fans feeling 100% confident after that stretch can’t be trusted, as the Hawks struggled to earn victories against some of the league’s worst teams. The degree of difficulty gets moved up several notches against a Winnipeg team that finds itself in the thick of a divisional race for the first time in a while. Sleepwalking through the first two periods of this one is a good way to get run out of the rink.

Starting lineups

Blackhawks

Position Players
Position Players
F1 Brandon Saad - Jonathan Toews - Alex DeBrincat
F2 Nick Schmaltz - Artem Anisimov - Patrick Kane
F3 Ryan Hartman - Vinnie Hinostroza - Patrick Sharp
F4 Lance Bouma - Tommy Wingels - John Hayden
D1 Duncan Keith - Jordan Oesterle
D2 Michal Kempny - Brent Seabrook
D3 Gustav Forsling - Connor Murphy
Goaltender Corey Crawford

Jets

Position Players
Position Players
F1 Kyle Connor - Mark Scheifele - Blake Wheeler
F2 Nikolaj Ehlers - Bryan Little - Patrik Laine
F3 Andrew Copp - Adam Lowry - Brandon Tanev
F4 Mathieu Perreault - Matt Hendricks - Joel Armia
D1 Josh Morrissey - Jacob Trouba
D2 Dmitry Kulikov - Tyler Myers
D3 Ben Chiarot - Tucker Poolman
Goaltender Connor Helleybuck

How to watch Blackhawks at Jets

Time: 7 p.m. CT

Location: Bell MTS Place, Winnipeg

TV: NBC Sports Chicago