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Blackhawks play host to Jets ahead of lengthy road trip
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Chicago Blackhawks will play their final home game until March on Sunday night and will do so against a streaking Winnipeg Jets club that is desperately trying to get into the playoff race.
The Blackhawks have slumped as of late with a 3-2-4 record in their past nine games. That has cut their lead atop the Central Division over the St. Louis Blues to just one point and they now trail the NHL-leading Anaheim Ducks by seven points in the overall conference standings.
Chicago lost in regulation on Thursday, dropping a 2-1 decision to the Minnesota Wild. Antti Raanta yielded two first-period goals and made 17 saves in all, while Patrick Kane's goal with less than a minute left to play prevented a shutout loss.
"When you give up two goals in the first period and you're behind all the time, it's much harder to play," Raanta remarked.
Kane scored his 24th goal of the season but also his first since Dec. 28. He has six goals and 13 points in eight career meetings with the Jets.
Chicago is expected to have defenseman Duncan Keith back in the lineup tonight after he missed his first game of the season on Thursday due to illness. The blueliner is third in the NHL with 43 assists.
No. 1 goaltender Corey Crawford will get the start in Chicago's last home game until March 1. The Blackhawks, who are 18-3-7 as the host this season, begin a seven-game road trip on Tuesday that leads into the Olympic break and concludes in the first game back following the Winter Games.
Crawford has never lost to the Jets franchise, going 3-0-0 with a 1.67 goals against average.
That is part of Chicago's dominance of Winnipeg as the 'Hawks have won seven straight and 12 of the 15 meetings. That includes a 5-1-0 record all-time at home in this series.
The Jets franchise has not beaten the Blackhawks since the Atlanta Thrashers claimed a 3-2 victory in Chicago on Oct. 27, 2007, but comes into this game having won five of six games under head coach Paul Maurice since he replaced Claude Noel on Jan. 12.
Winnipeg had a four-game win streak snapped with Thursday's loss to San Jose, then failed to hold a 4-1 lead on Saturday night versus the Toronto Maple Leafs. However, Dustin Byfuglien scored 2:44 into overtime to give the Jets a 5-4 win.
Byfuglien controlled a loose puck in the neutral zone, skated to the point and fired a wrister over Jonathan Bernier's glove for the deciding tally, his 12th goal and 40th point of the season.
"I think that's been our big thing around here, just sticking with the game plan and not getting away from it," Byfuglien said. "Even if we get down or are chasing the score, you stick with it, you're bound to get your shots and opportunities to score. It's just a matter of doing it when you get the chances."
Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler both had a goal and an assist, while Byfuglien added a helper. Zach Bogosian and Mark Scheifele notched goals and Ondrej Pavelec made 24 saves for the Jets, who are still last in the Central Division with 53 points and eight points back of the eighth spot in the Western Conference.
Pavelec was making his eighth start in a row and is 0-3-2 with a 4.61 GAA lifetime versus the Blackhawks. Maurice could opt to give Al Montoya his first start since Jan. 5, though the backup netminder himself is 0-1-2 with a 3.26 GAA versus the Blackhawks.
01/26 10:22:15 ET