Blackhawks face the Wild in final home game of the regular season
Early in the season, the Minnesota Wild was one of the Cinderella stories of the NHL: under the guidance of freshman NHL bench boss Mike Yeo, the Wild surged to the top of the Western conference.
The last time these two teams met was January 12th, when the Blackhawks won 5-2 at the United Center. Since that time, the Wild slowly tumbled out of the top eight in the West (all the way down to 13th, 33-35-10), and the Blackhawks (44-26-9) just clinched a playoff berth. They will now face each other twice in the next few days. Last year, it was Minnesota's game 82 that made the difference for Chicago to go to the playoffs; now these final games of the season could make the difference for the Blackhawks to earn home ice advantage.
Like last year, however, the Wild are going out swinging, taking wins over the Panthers and Kings in their past two games with third-period rallies. Although Chicago is leading their season series 2-0, the Blackhawks will underestimate the Wild at their own risk.
Coach Yeo says that the team is more focused on doing things right and ending the season on a good note than worrying about spoiling other teams' chances. A solid end to their season would set a positive tone for next season. While the team made some major moves last summer - in particular, making some high-profile trades with the San Jose Sharks - there is still work to be done in Minnesota before the team returns to playoff contention.
Chicago enters tonight 7-1-2 over their past 10 games; Minnesota is 4-6-0. The Blackhawks had an excellent March, especially considering they were missing team captain Jonathan Toews and several other players to injury. Toews is hoping to return for the final two games of the season; he has been cleared for contact. Other than Toews, the Blackhawks are still without Sami Lepistö (leg) and Steve Montador (concussion?).
Injuries for the Wild include Matt Kassian and Mike Lundin (both groin issues), Jared Spurgeon (concussion), and Matt Cullen (broken finger).
The Blackhawks have three games to refine their play before the season ends; although their playoff berth is now firmly in hand, Chicago cannot afford to let down their guard. They will need to play full 60-minute efforts over the next three games this week.
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The puck drops at 6 p.m. CDT on WGN TV and WGN 720 radio in Chicago; it will also be carried on Fox Sports North and Fox Sports Wisconsin.
For those attending the game in person, it is Fan Appreciation Day at the United Center.