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Patrick Sharp returns to the top line as Blackhawks face Devils

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It’s the Blackhawks vs. the Devils in Newark.

Chicago Blackhawks v New Jersey Devils Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Just when everything was starting to feel good about the 2017-18 Chicago Blackhawks again, they go and get blanked by the Dallas Stars. But redemption is just 48 hours away, as the Hawks head east on Saturday night to face the New Jersey Devils in their final game before Christmas.

Did anyone expect the Devils to be near a division lead around Christmas time? Anyone? Bueller? Well, it’s happening. New Jersey was tied with the Washington Capitals atop the Metropolitan Division as of Friday morning, although the Fightin’ Ovechkins did pull ahead slightly with an overtime loss on Friday night. Still, this Devils team is far ahead of expectations, which has our friends over at All About the Jersey putting a playoff spot atop their Christmas lists. New Jersey’s most recent outing was a 4-3 win via shootout over the New York Rangers on Thursday night. Taylor Hall, as one might expect, is the leading scorer on this team with a point-per-game pace through the first 32.

But it’s a youth movement that’s really driving this team, spearheaded by a couple of teenagers. Jesper Bratt, a 19-year-old Swedish LW, is second on the team with 23 points, while Nico Hischier, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, has five goals and 16 assists while also being unable to legally purchase alcohol in America. And don’t forget about undrafted free agent signing Will Butcher, a 23-year-old defenseman who has emerged as a power play specialist with 12 of his 21 assists coming on the man advantage. There’s also the feel-good story of Brian Boyle, who’s having a career renaissance with 15 points in 24 games after a cancer diagnosis just before the season started. All of that and more in front of another solid season from Cory Schneider has New Jersey fans thinking about its first postseason appearance since 2012.

As for the Hawks, a loss on Thursday means lineup changes on Saturday, apparently. At the morning skate, Patrick Sharp was skating on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad. The second line remained intact, but Alex DeBrincat jumped down to the third line, Ryan Hartman moved to center and Richard Panik remained on the right wing. Looks like Vinnie Hinostroza will be the odd man out for this one. On the defensive side of things, Cody Franson and Michal Kempny appeared to be the scratches, meaning that Jan Rutta is back from injury. And, of course, Corey Crawford is in net.

Chicago and New Jersey met up for a shootout back in November. The Hawks grabbed a 4-1 lead, watched the Devils score five straight goals, pulled back within one goal by the end of the second, but couldn’t find an equalizer in the third. Whether it’s a blowout or a shootout, the Hawks could go for two points, with the rest of the teams in the Central Division showing no signs of slowing down.

Blackhawks

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

Blackhawks

Position Players
Position Players
F1 Patrick Sharp - Jonathan Toews - Brandon Saad
F2 Nick Schmaltz - Artem Anisimov - Patrick Kane
F3 Alex DeBrincat - Ryan Hartman - Richard Panik
F4 Lance Bouma - Tommy Wingels - John Hayden
D1 Duncan Keith - Jordan Oesterle
D2 Connor Murphy - Brent Seabrook
D3 Gustav Forsling - Jan Rutta
Goaltender Anton Forsberg

How to watch Blackhawks at Devils

Time: 6 p.m. CT

Location: Prudential Center, Newark

TV: WGN