The Blackhawks and Wild have returned to Chicago and will face off tonight in Game 5 at the United Center. Catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet, beginning with Blackhawks Pregame Live at 7:30.
After suffering a 3-2 overtime loss to the Wild in Game 3 of the Western Conference quarterfinals, the Blackhawks returned the favor by shutting out their opponent in a 3-0 victory on Tuesday. Now the Blackhawks -- who hold a 3-1 lead in the series -- will battle to knock the Wild out of the playoffs tonight and advance to the Western Conference Semifinals.
Since the start of the postseason, Minnesota's admitted they're a desperate team. After falling in the first two matchups at the United Center, the Wild returned home and put on a defensive performance that kept the Blackhawks from getting quality shots on goal for the majority of the game. But after narrowing Chicago's 2-1 series lead, the Wild faced another hardship that has set the team back yet again.
[More: Blackhawks hope to take advantage of Game 5 situation]
During pregame warmups on the night of Game 1, Minnesota goaltender Niklas Backstrom suffered a lower-body injury that's kept him from seeing ice time this postseason. Backup netminder Josh Harding -- who played in only five regular-season games after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis last November -- took his place and put on an impressive performance despite his team's 2-1 loss.
Following that game, the players inside Minnesota's locker room said they felt comfortable with whichever goaltender played in net. But on Tuesday, the Wild suffered from another injury as Harding had to leave the ice following a collision with Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews. Darcy Kuemper -- who's played in just six NHL games -- was called to fill in with his team down 1-0 at the start of the second period.
Despite serving a number of penalties, the Blackhawks found a way to get two goals past Kuemper to earn a 3-0 victory. Backstrom sat on Minnesota's bench in his pads Tuesday following Harding's injury as the backup to Kuemper in case he got hurt. The fact he was even available if the situation called for it makes it look like Backstrom will get the start in net on Thursday. However, Wild coach Mike Yeo has not announced which netminder will lead the team onto the ice as of Thursday morning. [UPDATE: It'll be Josh Harding.]
But no matter who's between the pipes on Thursday, the Blackhawks are preparing for a tough matchup ahead. After seeing the fight the Wild put up in Game 3, Chicago plans to pick up their tempo and intensity in front of their home crowd.
"That's where our minds are at right now: take advantage of the situation," Patrick Kane told reporters after Wednesday's shootaround. "We've put ourselves into a good spot; coming back home, it's an exciting opportunity for us. (Thursday) will be a good challenge."
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