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CANUCKS (13-7-3) at BLACKHAWKS (14-11-2)
TV -- TSN (HD), RIS, NHLN-US (HD), CSN-Chicago (HD)
Last 10 -- Vancouver 5-4-1; Chicago 6-3-1
Season series -- The Blackhawks have won both of the previous meetings between these teams this season, the most recent a 7-1 thumping of the Canucks in the middle of Chicago's "Circus Trip" on Nov. 20 at Rogers Arena.
Big story -- With two postseason meetings in the last two years, Vancouver and Chicago are no strangers to one another, but with the Blackhawks easily having gotten the better of their recent encounters, the Canucks need to prove to themselves -- and to the Hawks -- that they can beat Chicago.
Canucks -- Much was expected of the Canucks this season, but the first eight weeks of the season have had their ups and downs. The Canucks suffered a recent four-game losing streak, but have rebounded in a big way, winning their last three games by a combined score of 17-5, including a 6-1 trouncing of San Jose on Nov. 26. In their most recent outing, the Canucks scored four goals in the third period to knock off the Flames 7-2 in Calgary. Mason Raymond, a native of nearby Cochrane, Alta., had his second career hat trick.
The winning streak has put the Canucks back in front in the Northwest Division, one point ahead of Colorado, and into the second overall spot in the Western Conference. If the Canucks' offense can keep up its torrid pace that position may get more solidified. Scoring is coming from stars large -- Henrik and Daniel Sedin have combined for nine points over the past three games -- and small -- Jeff Tambellini has four points in three games since being recalled from Manitoba. With netminder Roberto Luongo also looking strong -- he's got a .934 save percentage over the last three games -- the Canucks look a solid bet to stay hot as they reach the dog days of the 2010-11 season.
Blackhawks -- The Hawks are starting to heat up -- they went 4-2-0 on their two-week trip and came home for a 7-5 victory against St. Louis on Tuesday. Corey Crawford has been in goal for the last three games, so the big concern will be whether they can continue their run when Marty Turco returns to the crease Friday. Crawford allowed one goal in back-to-back wins at Anaheim and Los Angeles, but allowed five goals in the victory against the Blues. Turco is getting his first start since Nov. 24. Coach Joel Quenneville is banking that 10 days off will do Turco some good after he surrendered 11 goals in his last two starts.
With Chicago starting to make its way back up the Central standings it could be a risky time to move away from the hot hand in net. The Hawks have moved back into second place, trailing first-place Detroit by four points, but with the Wings holding five games in hand, each point becomes more and more precious for Chicago. If Turco can't come through Friday, it will put pressure on the offense to keep pace with a potent Vancouver team. Fortunately for Chicago, after putting up seven goals against St. Louis on Tuesday -- largely thanks to two goals each from Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews -- the Hawks clearly still have the horses to win an offensive shootout.
Who's hot -- After missing the beginning of the season due to injury, Alex Burrows looks to be getting back into form playing alongside the Sedins. Burrows has five points in his last four games. ... Patrick Sharp is continuing his brilliant season in Chicago. The winger has 8 points during a five-game scoring streak, including a goal and an assist in each of the last three games.
Injury report -- Chicago took a big hit this week when Marian Hossa went down with a lower-body injury that will keep him out for 2-3 weeks. Fernando Pisani is also listed as questionable for the Hawks. Vancouver is without Rick Rypien, who has been out since Nov. 25 due to personal reasons.
Stat pack -- The Hawks are playing the second of four consecutive games at the United Center, but they're still looking for the home magic they had last season. Chicago was an impressive 29-8-4 at home last season, but is just 6-7-0 so far this season.
Puck drop -- The Canucks and Blackhawks have the makings on an inter-divisional rivalry after two straight postseason meetings. But each side needs to get wins to make this a real rivalry, and the Hawks have ruled the roost in this one. With Vancouver no doubt smarting from two consecutive playoff ousters at the hands of Chicago, as well as two losses this season, the Canucks would love knock off the Blackhawks in their own house and stake their claim to the mantel of Western conference favorite.