Penguins host Blackhawks in battle of League's elite
BLACKHAWKS (17-7-3) at PENGUINS (20-9-0)
Chicago 7-2-1; Pittsburgh 8-2-0
These current division leaders meet for the only time in the 2009-10 season. Evgeni Malkin scored 1:36 into overtime as Pittsburgh claimed a 5-4 win in Chicago on Feb. 27 in the most recent meeting. Jonathan Toews
registered his first career hat trick in defeat.
This game represents a clash of the titans, with the Penguins perhaps serving as a model for what the young Blackhawks are looking to achieve. Pittsburgh advanced to the Stanley Cup Final two seasons ago, lost in six to Detroit, then came back the next season to win the rematch in seven and lift the Cup. Chicago made it to the Western Conference Finals last season before bowing out to Detroit, and is looking to build off that postseason run.
An eight-game winning streak at the United Center came to a halt Friday as surging Nashville came to town and defeated Chicago 4-1 behind 34 saves from Dan Ellis. Toews, who just signed a five-year, $31.5 million contract extension Thursday, had the game's opening goal, but the Blackhawks were stymied after that.
"Tonight we tried to overdo some things, especially after Jonathan scored," defenseman Brian Campbell
said. "We maybe thought it was going to come easy and that doesn't happen in this League."
The goal light operator has been kept busy lately when Pittsburgh is involved -- the Penguins have scored 17 times during their current three-game winning streak. That includes hat tricks by Sidney Crosby and Mike Rupp in consecutive victories over the Atlantic Division rival Rangers. In the most recent win, Bill Guerin's power-play goal in the third followed by a pair of empty-netters gave them a 4-1 win over the visiting Avalanche.
"I think our team is getting better as the season goes on," Guerin said, "and hopefully we're just getting going."
Toews has goals in three straight games for the Blackhawks. … Crosby has hit a stretch where he looks like he could carry the Penguins, notching six goals and 11 points in the last three games. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has won six straight starts, giving up two goals or less in five of them.
Blackhawks forwards Adam Burish (knee surgery) and Dave Bolland
(back surgery) are out long-term. … Penguins forward Chris Kunitz is on injured reserve with a lower-body injury and defenseman Alex Goligoski is not expected to play Saturday for undisclosed reasons. Forward Matt Cooke will be back after serving a two-game suspension.
Chicago is one of two teams with four defensemen boasting double-digit point totals -- Philadelphia is the other. Duncan Keith
leads the way with 23 points, followed by Campbell with 14 and Cam Barker and Brent Seabrook
with 12 apiece.
Once the spring arrives it will have been 18 years since the Penguins of Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and Tom Barrasso swept the Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final. Could the coming postseason bring a repeat matchup, or will this be the one and only time these two elite squads face each other this season?