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Chicago (18-8-4) at Minnesota (20-8-3)

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By JEFF BARTL, STATS Writer Wednesday, Dec 14, 2011 Puck Drop: 7:30 pm EST Wed Dec 14, 2011

The Chicago Blackhawks have lived up to expectations so far, sitting atop the Central Division and surging of late.

The Minnesota Wild have greatly exceeded theirs.

Minnesota hosts Chicago on Wednesday night in a matchup of the Western Conference’s top teams.

The Blackhawks (18-8-4) improved to 6-1-1 over their last eight games with a 3-2 overtime win over San Jose on Sunday, getting the winning goal from Patrick Sharp in the extra session for the second consecutive game.

Chicago was outshot 33-13 through two periods, but it put 21 shots on goal through the third period and overtime, including Andrew Brunette’s goal with 1:06 left in regulation to tie the game with an extra skater on the ice.

Four of the Blackhawks’ last five games have gone past regulation.

“We stole it in overtime,” said Sharp, who also scored to beat the New York Islanders 3-2 on Thursday. “It wasn’t the prettiest game, but it’s what we’ll have to do down the stretch the rest of the way - win games like that, find a way to win the ugly ones.”

Sharp has nine goals and three assists over Chicago’s last eight games, and he’ll look to continue his hot stretch against a Minnesota team coming off its first loss in its last eight.

The Wild (20-8-3) fell 2-1 in Winnipeg on Tuesday, ending both their seven-game overall winning streak and a franchise-record seven-game win streak on the road. They were held to fewer than two goals for the first time since a 1-0 win over Colorado on Nov. 17.

Minnesota has lost six of eight against Chicago, scoring two goals or fewer in each defeat.

Guillaume Latendresse had the lone goal Tuesday for the Wild, who failed to take advantage of a power play in the final minute of the game.

“We kind of strayed away from the little things that we do that makes us successful,” defenseman Clayton Stoner said. “It’ll be good to try and come out (Wednesday) and redeem ourselves and play the kind of game we have been playing.”

Niklas Backstrom, 1-4-0 with a 3.56 goals-against average in his last six starts versus Chicago, made 25 saves Tuesday but lost for only the second time in his last 10 starts. He was making his second start after missing three games with a groin injury, and it’s unclear if he’ll start on back-to-back nights.

Rookie backup Matt Hackett - nephew of former Blackhawks goaltender Jeff Hackett - went 2-0-0 with a 1.01 GAA while Backstrom was hurt.

Chicago coach Joel Quenneville announced Ray Emery will get his third straight start in net for the struggling Corey Crawford after making 35 saves Sunday.

Emery has appeared in each of the last four games, going 3-0-1 with a 1.57 GAA.

“You feel better the more you play,” said Emery, who made 42 saves in beating the Wild 5-3 for Ottawa on Nov. 20, 2006, his only career start against Minnesota. “Even though they threw a lot of pucks at me (Sunday), I think I did a good job of sorting things out, not giving them second chances.”

Chicago winger Bryan Bickell will be back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch the last five games.

The status of Minnesota forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard is uncertain after he was checked into the boards from behind late in Tuesday’s loss.

Updated Wednesday, Dec 14, 2011

Team Comparison

Team G W L OTL Pts Standings GF GA Road/Home
Chicago 82 45 26 11 101 4th, Central 248 238 18-18-5 Road
Minnesota 82 35 36 11 81 4th, Central 177 226 20-17-4 Home

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Wednesday, Dec 14