Wednesday NHL: Blackhawks (99 points) at Wild (80 points)
It might be time to panic in the Windy City because the Chicago Blackhawks are clearly broken and not showing any signs of getting fixed before the upcoming playoffs.
Chicago lost its third straight game (first time this season dropping three in a row in regulation) and seventh in nine on Tuesday night in St. Louis, 4-2, to a Blues team that has the worst home record in the league. Chicago has held the lead in six of its last eight losses, and owned third-period leads in three of those contests.
The Blackhawks have outshot opponents 66 times, including a 34-30 edge Tuesday, by far the most in the NHL. No other team had outshot their opponent more than 45 times. Patrick Sharp has a five-game scoring streak with three goals and two assists. But Chicago was 0 for 2 on the power play and is 4 for 40 the last 11 games. The Hawks have opened as -128 moneyline favorites on WagerWeb.com over the Wild for Wednesday’s game.
After Antti Niemi lost his second straight start Tuesday, it’s uncertain if he’ll be back in net or if Cristobal Huet will make his first start since last Thursday, when he gave up seven goals in an 8-3 loss at Columbus. Huet has started all three of this season’s meetings with Minnesota, posting a 2.27 goals-against average in those outings.
Minnesota is battered, losing goalie Josh Harding and center Andrew Ebbert for the season this week. The team said Tuesday that Harding has a torn labrum in his hip and will likely need surgery. The Wild have six games remaining and are a long shot to make the playoffs. Harding aggravated his injury in Friday’s game at Detroit and was removed after two periods. Niklas Backstrom is the starter, but Harding has played more this season because Backstrom has also been hurt. Ebbett was hurt when he blocked a shot in Monday’s game against the Los Angeles Kings.
Mikko Koivu leads the Wild in scoring with 20 goals and 48 assists. Former Hawk Martin Havlat has 18 goals and 35 assists.
It’s the fourth and final meeting between these two teams. The Hawks won the first two in Chicago and appeared to be on the way to an easy victory at the XcelEnergyCenter on Jan. 9, leading 5-1 in the third period — only to see Minnesota rally for a 6-5 shootout victory.