Wild-Blackhawks Preview

The Associated PressOctober 25, 2013

On their way to winning a second Stanley Cup in four seasons, the Chicago Blackhawks easily dispatched a Minnesota Wild team that was short-handed in net in the 2013 playoffs.

The Wild will also be missing one of their goaltenders for their first matchup with the Blackhawks this season.

Josh Harding is dealing with a lower-body injury so Minnesota will turn to Niklas Backstrom against its new Central Division rivals Saturday night.

Chicago took advantage of Backstrom's absence due to a leg injury in last season's Western Conference quarterfinals while cruising to a 4-1 series win. The Wild (5-3-3) have also had problems keeping their goaltenders healthy this season.

Backstrom was forced to miss four games with a strained knee and Harding took over by going 5-2-1 with a 1.00 goals-against average, second-best in the league.

Backstrom made his return when Harding was forced to leave after the second period Thursday against Carolina. In his first game since Oct. 8, Backstrom stopped all seven shots he faced in a 3-1 victory, the Wild's second in a row.

"You have to be ready no matter what happens," Backstrom said. "Don't hide behind any excuses. Just go out there and try to help the guys."

Minnesota coach Mike Yeo said Friday that Harding won't make the trip to Chicago, and the Wild recalled Johan Gustafsson to serve as Backstrom's backup.

Including the postseason, Minnesota is 2-8-0 in its last 10 games in Chicago and fell 5-3 on March 5 in its only regular-season visit last season. The Wild lost all three playoff games at the United Center, including a 5-1 drubbing in Game 5 on May 9.

The Wild are also 1-6-0 in their last seven overall meetings with the Blackhawks, including the playoffs, and will get more chances to end those struggles this season. With its move from the defunct Northwest Division, Minnesota will face Chicago (6-1-3) five times and will close out this home-and-home series Monday in St. Paul.

The Blackhawks enter this set riding a seven-game point streak (5-0-2) but were disappointed in their latest effort, a 6-5 overtime loss in Tampa Bay on Thursday. Chicago rallied from an early two-goal deficit to take a 4-3 lead in the third period but found itself trailing in the final two minutes of regulation.

That's when it caught a lucky break when Tampa Bay defenseman Matt Carle's pass deflected off teammate Radko Gudas and past Ben Bishop for the tying score. The Blackhawks, though, failed to earn a second point when backup goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin failed to corral a rebound in the extra period.

"You're always happy to get points in this league, but it's not the type of game we want to play," defenseman Duncan Keith said.

The Blackhawks will try for a better performance while adding to a 4-0-2 home record, and Bryan Bickell will seek to help by scoring a goal in a career-high fourth straight game.

Bickell has five goals and two assists in his last eight games against the Wild, including the playoffs. He had three goals and one assist in the postseason series, scoring in overtime in Game 1.

Patrick Sharp had a team-best five goals and one assist in those five games, but he's scored just one goal this season.

Backstrom is 2-6-1 with a 3.12 goals-against average in his last 10 games versus Chicago while Blackhawks' likely starter Corey Crawford is 7-1-2 with a 1.53 GAA in his last 10 against Minnesota, including the postseason.