By Nicolino DiBenedetto
San Jose (48-14-10) at Chicago (38-22-11), 8:30 pm EDT
CHICAGO (AP) — The injury-plagued San Jose Sharks are hoping to
see Rob Blake return, while the Chicago Blackhawks are happy to
have one of their top scorers back in the lineup.
The Sharks will try to extend their winning streak at the United
Center to seven games on Wednesday night when they meet Patrick
Sharp and the Blackhawks for the final time in the regular
It’s possible these teams could meet again in the second round
of the playoffs, with San Jose currently battling Detroit for
the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference and Chicago trying to
hold off Vancouver for the fourth spot.
The Sharks (48-14-10), who are two points shy of matching their
total of 108 from last season with 10 games to play, already
have clinched a second consecutive Pacific Division title and
are going after their first Presidents’ Trophy.
That chase wasn’t slowed by a lower-body injury to Blake, as San
Jose overcame his absence to beat Colorado 3-1 on Sunday for its
third win in a row and fifth in six games.
“Considering the bodies (out of the lineup) and the amount of
hockey we’ve played, I was pleased,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan
said. “It’s a good time for our organization when that many
players come up and make an impact.”
Though forwards Ryan Clowe, Mike Grier, Tomas Plihal, Jeremy
Roenick and Claude Lemieux remain sidelined by injuries, it’s
possible Blake could be back Wednesday. The 39-year-old
defenseman has 10 goals and 43 points, ranking second on the
team among blueliners in both categories.
If the six-time All-Star is unable to play, San Jose could again
turn to Alexei Semenov, who had two assists Sunday after being a
healthy scratch in the previous two contests. The 6-foot-6
Russian has one goal and seven assists in 42 games.
“Sometimes when you don’t play for two or three games, it’s
tough to give your best game, but the team needs me to step up
while Blake is out,” Semenov said.
San Jose dropped its last meeting with Chicago 4-2 at home on
Jan. 31, snapping a 13-game winning streak in the series. That
run includes six straight victories at the United Center,
including a 6-5 win Nov. 16 in the Sharks’ lone visit this
The Blackhawks (38-22-11), though, are hoping Sharp can build on
a standout performance after he had two goals an and assist in
Sunday’s 4-1 win over Los Angeles to snap a five-game losing
Sharp had missed the previous 16 games with a left knee injury,
and Chicago went 6-7-3. The center, who has two goals in 14
games against San Jose, is second on the club with 25 goals.
“It was great to have him (Sharp) there,” said Blackhawks right
wing Martin Havlat, who had one of his two goals assisted by
Sharp on Sunday. “You can see we create more offense with him in
the lineup. We need him.”
With 11 games to go, the Blackhawks know they can’t afford
another long losing streak if they want to gain home-ice
advantage for the first round of the playoffs.
“I don’t want to say a number, but I still think our motivation
is to finish fourth in our conference,” coach Joel Quenneville
Chicago may start Nikolai Khabibulin for a third straight game
after he made 14 saves Sunday for his first win in four starts
since a groin injury ruled him out of 14 contests. The
goaltender made 32 saves to beat San Jose on Jan. 31.
Teammate Cristobal Huet is 0-3-1 with a tie and a 4.37
goals-against average in six game against the Sharks. He’s also
struggled of late, going 2-4-1 with a 3.50 GAA in his last eight