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NHL Preview from The Sports Network
Saturday, December 14th (All times Eastern)
Chicago Blackhawks (23-6-5) at Toronto Maple Leafs (16-14-3), 7 p.m.
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Chicago Blackhawks and their red-hot offense will try to keep rolling Saturday in Toronto, as the struggling Maple Leafs host an Original Six clash at Air Canada Centre.
Chicago opened December on a three-game losing streak, but the Blackhawks have since won three straight in convincing fashion to give them nine victories over their past 12 games.
After notching consecutive 6-2 wins against Florida and Dallas, the Blackhawks slammed the visiting Philadelphia Flyers by a 7-2 score on Wednesday. Chicago hadn't scored at least six goals in three straight games since doing so from Jan. 21-24, 1993 -- all 6-2 wins (vs. Washington, Hartford and Vancouver).
Duncan Keith and Andrew Shaw scored within a 39-second span, fueling a five- goal second-period outburst which sent Chicago to an easy win over the Flyers at United Center.
Michal Handzus, Kris Versteeg and Jonathan Toews also scored in the deciding period for the Blackhawks. Antti Raanta picked up the win with 28 saves, as Chicago boosted its NHL-best point total to 51 and its league-high goal total to 129.
"I don't think it's something we ever talk about, it's just that silent, quiet confidence knowing that we have the ability to score goals and generate offense," Keith said of the team's prolific scoring pace.
Beginning with tonight's tilt in Toronto, the Blackhawks are playing two of their next three games away from the Windy City. Chicago has been solid at both home and on the road this season, posting an 11-2-4 at United Center and a 12-4-1 record everywhere else.
Chicago will try to continue its recent dominance of the Maple Leafs on Saturday. The Blackhawks have won eight straight in this series since Toronto last picked up a road win on Feb. 12, 2003 in the Second City. Chicago has claimed four straight on the road against the Leafs, who last won at home against the Blackhawks on Dec. 1, 2001.
Toronto enters Saturday's matchup having lost its previous three games in regulation and the Leafs are just 2-6-2 over their past 10 trips to the ice.
While Chicago has outscored the opposition by a 19-6 margin during its three- game winning streak, the Maple Leafs have lost their last three tilts by a combined total of 14-6.
Toronto's latest setback came on Thursday when the St. Louis Blues recorded a 6-3 home win over the Leafs. David Backes scored twice and St. Louis used an early three-goal barrage to take down Toronto at Scottrade Center.
Nazem Kadri, Nikolai Kulemin and James van Riemsdyk tallied for the Leafs. James Reimer started in net, but was chased after giving up three goals on 15 shots in less than one period. Jonathan Bernier finished the contest with 18 stops.
"It looked like we were brain dead in a lot of areas," Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle stated bluntly.
Perhaps a proliferation of home dates over the next few weeks can help Toronto get back on track. Beginning with tonight, the Leafs are scheduled to play three of four, six of eight and eight of their next 11 games on home ice.
Toronto is 10-7-0 at Air Canada Centre this season and 6-7-3 as the guest.
The Leafs could also get a boost Saturday from the return of Dion Phaneuf to the lineup. The club's star defenseman completed a two-game suspension on Thursday for boarding Boston's Kevan Miller last Sunday.
Phaneuf leads Toronto's blue line with two goals and is second among the team's defensemen in points with 12. Cody Franson is pacing the Maple Leafs in scoring from the back end with 15 points on a goal and 14 assists.
12/14 10:25:24 ET