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Keith returns, Seabrook sits as Blackhawks host Avalanche

The veteran blue-liner hasn’t played since Nov. 29.

NHL: MAR 24 Avalanche at Blackhawks Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Duncan Keith said he’ll return from a groin injury and Corey Crawford will start in net on Wednesday night when the Blackhawks host the Colorado Avalanche at United Center.

It’s the middle of a stretch loaded with Central Division opponents for the Blackhawks, with a road game against the Jets waiting on Thursday night and a Saturday night matchup in Colorado also looming. The Avalanche swept a home-and-home with the Blackhawks over Thanksgiving weekend as part of a 8-1-1 stretch in their last 10 games. Colorado’s last game, however, was a 5-2 loss on the road to the St. Louis Blues on Dec. 16.

Having Tuesday off should benefit the Avs, who are in the middle of an 11-game, 20-day stretch of hockey. But as the recent run of play suggests, Colorado isn’t exactly struggling. Even with rookie phenom Cale Makar sidelined by an upper-body injury, the Avalanche are still rolling thanks in large part to an MVP-worthy season from center Nathan MacKinnon, who has an absurd 51 points (20 goals, 31 assists) in 33 games, leading the top-scoring offense in the league at 3.61 goals per game. Forward Joonas Donskoi is enjoying the best season of his 5-year career with 27 points in 33 games and forward Andre Burakovsky just returned from his own injury to a 23 point season in 30 games. The emergence of those two has helped offset injuries to top forwards like Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen.

For the Blackhawks, Keith’s return should bolster a blue line that’s been ravaged by injuries over the last month. He was paired with Connor Murphy during the morning skate, and that pairing will likely see plenty of MacKinnon with Chicago having the last change at home. With Keith returning, Brent Seabrook is expected to be a healthy scratch.

Elsewhere in the lineup, Alex Nylander should be skating on the second line with Dylan Strome and Patrick Kane, while Alex DeBrincat and Ryan Carpenter are on the outside of a third line with Kirby Dach in the middle.

As of this writing, the Blackhawks sit in the basement of the Western Conference, tied with the Anaheim Ducks at 32 points. However, Sunday’s win over the Minnesota Wild was one of the more encouraging victories enjoyed by the Hawks this season. A victory over the surging Avalanche would do wonders for the collective psyche of the Chicago fan base during this holiday season.

Let’s go Hawks!

Blackhawks — Statistic — Avalanche

47.4% (27th) — Corsi For — 49.4% (20th)

49.4% (20th) — Faceoffs — 47.4% (28th)

2.73 (21st) — Goals per game — 3.61 (1st)

3.12 (19th) — Goals against per game — 2.76 (8th)

16.6% (22nd) — Power play — 19.0% (16th)

79.6% (18th) — Penalty kill — 78.5% (20th)

Lineups

Blackhawks (subject to change)

Kubalik — Toews — Saad

Nylander — StromeKane

DeBrincat — Dach — Carpenter

Smith — Kampf — Highmore

Keith — Murphy

Gilbert — Gustafsson

Maata — Boqvist

Crawford

Lehner

Avalanche

Burakovsky — MacKinnon — Rantanen

Landeskog — Kadri — Donskoi

Nichushkin — Bellemare — Calvert

Nieto — Jost — Compher

Girard — Zadorov

Cole — Graves

Lindholm — Barberio

Francouz

Grubauer

How to watch

When: 7:00 p.m.

Where: United Center, Chicago

TV: NBC Sports Network

Live stream: NBC Sports app