It’s a Central Division showdown tonight at the United Center between the Chicago Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild
The Chicago Blackhawks and their fans are likely glad they have a quick chance to move on from Friday’s clunker against the Washington Capitals. However, no easy landing awaits as the red-hot Minnesota Wild charge into the United Center.
Last night in Dallas, the Wild played one of their ridiculous number of games in hand against the Blackhawks. Naturally, they pulled out a 5-4 win. They’re now tied atop the Central Division — and Western Conference — with the Blackhawks at 59 points. But Minnesota having four games in hand makes them the true first-place club.
These two teams have yet to meet up this season, which is very strange. They have four games against each other between tonight and March 12. So there’s plenty of time to get familiar while these teams fight for the Central’s top spot.
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Of course, these squads have plenty of familiarity from three playoff meetings in the past four seasons. So this game, and the other three, should be very tightly contested.
Lineups for tonight’s game
Here’s what we’re looking at for Minnesota’s lineup, which is coming off a game last night:
The biggest note, of course, is that Vezina Trophy hopeful Dunbyk is starting tonight. Kumper got the call last night in Dallas, and though he and his teammates almost blew a four-goal lead, it ultimately worked out.
Dubnyk has been a machine this season, which was especially true during Minnesota’s 12-game win streak that ended just before the 2016 calendar year closed out. He boasts a 22-7-3 record with league-leading marks of .940 in save percentage and 1.77 in goals-allowed average.
Against the Chicago Blackhawks in his career, Dubnyk is far more mortal (9-6-0, .912, 2.95). But I’d argue he’s never looked this on point when facing them in the past.
There are a lot of familiar faces in the rest of the Wild’s lineup, as they’ve seemed to hold the feeling they were a piece or two away from Stanley Cup contention over the past several seasons. A big addition, however, has been Staal.
He seems revitalized not having to play for the Carolina Hurricanes anymore, as his 39 points and 15 goals both lead the Wild. He’s made Minnesota’s top line a true offensive threat.
TV/radio lists and prediction
Game time: 6 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Network
Radio: WGN 720-AM
TV streaming: NBC Sports App
Radio streaming: WGN Radio App
Prediction: The Blackhawks seemed genuinely upset after Friday’s game. Normally when they lay a clunker, they give the normal answers in postgame and just move on. But guys like Jonathan Toews and Niklas Hjalmarsson seemed like they were looking for a team to destroy right away.
Not sure they’ve found the right opponent for that, but this is certainly a good setup for the Blackhawks. They have an opponent now tied for first with them in the Central Division and playing far better than them. The Wild should come in oozing confidence despite playing last night.
The big issue will be beating Dubnyk, who should be plenty fresh for this game. The hope would be a combination of last change for the Blackhawks and the rest of the Wild being on tired legs will push Chicago, which should additionally have plenty of motivation after getting punked by Washington.
I’ll say the Blackhawks take a 3-1 decision, with the third goal being an empty-netter. Patrick Kane, a Minnesota Wild playoff killer, nets the game-winner, while the bottom six also contributes a goal. Marian Hossa will get the empty-netter to salt things away.