Hawks travel to Minnesota for first of back-to-back games

The Blackhawks (20-5-4) were only able to enjoy the confines of the United Center for one game, a heartbreaking 4-3 loss to Dallas, before packing up and hiting the road again.  The Hawks travel to Minnesota to face the Wild (16-8-5), a team that has dropped three of their last four games after an otherwise impressive November.

The secret to the Wild's success lies largely in goaltender Josh Harding, who has put up outstanding numbers with a league-leading 1.45 GAA, and his stellar SV % of .939 trails only King's goalie Ben Scrivens.  Minnesota currently sits in the first wild card position in the Western conference with 37 points, and a win could catapault them into third in the Central division, which is looking to be the most competivie division in the league at the season's quarter mark.  Harding posted his third shutout of the season on Monday, stopping 21 shots against the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Hawks currently sit at the top of the league with 44 points, the first team to crack the 40 point mark this season.  However, the Chicago has also played more games than other teams chasing the league's top spot, so every point matters, particularly against a division rival like Minnesota. After a stellar 6-1-0 road trip, the Hawks lost a rough game to the Stars, firing 50 shots on net but unable to complete a 3-goal comeback mounted late in the second against Kari Lehtonen.  The Hawks continue to show a dominance in games, with the ability to change the game's momentum with a couple of good shifts and a goal when needed.  Falling flat on their first game back from a road trip, Chicago is going to have to pick themselves back up to earn a win over a division rival with a hot goalie.  

The Hawks also reassigned center Brandon Pirri to Rockford, recalling forwards Jeremy Morin and Joakim Nordstrom for the trip to Minnesota.

Who to watch: For Minnesota, it's Harding, who has been playing lights out hockey on top of having multiple sclerosis, a condition that hasn't dimmed Harding's compete level or control of his net.  For Chicago, it's Patrick Kane, who was named the NHL's first star of November and is playing some solid hockey on the second line. However, watch the Hawk's fourth line as well, made up of Brandon Bollig, Marcus Kruger, and Ben Smith. The line has found chemistry together, and while they aren't putting the puck in the net every night, they are drawing tough defensive assignments and generating solid offensive chances.

Injury report: Chicago's Michael Handzus (injury) was out yesterday against the Stars, and did not travel with the team to Minnesota.  Also missing the game agains the Wild is Andrew Shaw, with an undisclosed injury that will likely be revealed tomorrow.  Shaw took a big hit late in the third yesterday and appeared dazed after the play.  Bryan Bickell (foot) and Nikolai Khabibulin (lower body) remain out, and Michael Kostka (foot) was reassigned to the AHL for a conditioning assignment on his road to recovery.  For the Wild, Mikael Granlund (concussion) will remain out after missing five of the last six games.

Other news: USA Hockey released their preliminary World Junior Championship roster today, and Blackhawks' 2013 first round draft pick Ryan Hartman was among those invited to camp. 

Where to watch: NHLN-US, CSN-CH, FS-N

Location: 317 Washington St., St. Paul

Time: 7 pm CT

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