THE STORY: The top two teams in the Western Conference square off Wednesday as the league-leading Minnesota Wild host the Chicago Blackhawks. Minnesota returns home following a 4-1-0 road trip that concluded Tuesday in Winnipeg, where the Jets ended the Wild’s seven-game winning streak with a 2-1 victory. The Wild have won eight of their last 10 home games and captured six straight meetings with Central Division opponents. Chicago, which has a one-point lead over the Detroit Red Wings in the Central, is 4-0-1 in its last five games overall and is riding a four-game road winning streak. Ray Emery is expected to make his third consecutive start for the Blackhawks in place of Corey Crawford, who has allowed 11 goals in his last three appearances.
TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, Versus, TSN2
ABOUT THE BLACKHAWKS (18-8-4): Bryan Bickell will be back in the lineup Wednesday after sitting out five games as a healthy scratch. Bickell, who has not played since Nov. 29 against the Phoenix Coyotes, recorded four points in his first five games of the season but has just one goal in his last 19 contests. “I’ll take the opportunity and I have to do the best I can do with it,” Bickell told the Chicago Tribune. “I want to be in the lineup and stay (there). I wasn’t playing my best, and through the last couple of weeks, I’ve been realizing what I need to do to stay focused and to be ready for every shift every game.”
ABOUT THE WILD (20-8-3): Guillaume Latendresse returned from a concussion Tuesday and scored Minnesota’s lone goal against Winnipeg. Latendresse, who had been sidelined since Nov. 10, also made a play that led to the game-winning tally for the Jets as his clearing attempt was stopped at the right point by Zach Bogosian, who blasted the puck past Niklas Backstrom. Cal Clutterbuck also was back in the lineup after missing two games with a charley horse and registered three shots on goal.
1. The Blackhawks are 6-1-1 in their last eight meetings with the Wild and have won four of five visits to Minnesota.
2. Dany Heatley notched an assist in his 700th career game on Tuesday to extend his points streak to seven contests.
PREDICTION: Wild 3, Blackhawks 1.