Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Chicago never had the lead in their game against Minnesota last Sunday, which isn’t how the Blackhawks play their best game. However they did fight back to erase 3 deficits and force the Wild to a shootout. A shootout which the Blackhawks lost, eventually. But beyond showcasing the pugilistic talents of the bottom-six forwards, this game showed that this Blackhawks team may have a lot more perseverance and “guts” than we saw earlier this season.

The playoffs are right around the corner. The Blackhawks had better get a heaping helping of guts on the menu, and start making quick work of trifling teams like Minnesota, pretty quick. Like, perhaps, tonight.

There isn’t that much to say about Minnesota. Their goaltending is either hot or stone cold; offense is much the same. Though the consistency has been returning lately: the Blackhawks 5-4 contest notwithstanding, in the last month there are few games where the Wild either scored, or allowed, more than 3 goals. Offensive cornerstone Dany Heatley has been ramping it up lately, but still has a mere 4 goals since February 16th. The defense isn’t anything to write home about either, with just one member of the blueline corps in possession of a positive plus-minus.

The Wild aren’t in the playoffs, and mathematically can’t get there. They are playing for pride, next year’s contract, and self-respect. In other words, if the Blackhawks play a 60-minute game, this is a very beatable team.

60 minutes is about how long it has taken a person to sort out who is playing for the Blackhawks of late: the list of who is and is not injured has been a roster-go-round of dizzying complexity. As of Wednesday’s practice, however, just two players were absent from the on-ice activity — Steve Montador and Dave Bolland — and Captain Jonathan Toews, though cleared for contact and participating in all aspects of the team’s workout, is a no-go for tonight’s matchup.

But there is a pleasant piece of roster-related news for Blackhawks fans to rejoice in: Duncan Keith’s suspension is over, and he will be in putting on the Indian Head sweater in the Twin Cities this evening. Having served the preposterously outlandish and disproportional suspension from Brendan “Heinrich Himmler” Shanahan, Keith is rested, healthy, and ready to go. This will go a long way towards helping shore up a defensive squad that has had moments of acute struggle in his absence. The strongest card in the Blackhawks hand on D right now is Brent Seabrook, who has single-handedly taken control of games and appears to be peaking at the perfect time.

Offensively, we have watched as the line teaming up Patrick Sharp, Marcus Kruger and Viktor Stalberg has shown the spark that has been missing from the 2nd unit for most of the year. Expect to see that combination remain intact as long as it continues to fire on all cylinders. However the bad news on the offensive front is that with 2 of our top 3 centers in the shop for repairs, it is likely that we see the return of the proverbial AMC Gremlin that fans know as Brendan Morrison to the lineup. Trust me, the warranty expired on this one a long, long time ago.

And finally, barring injury or performance meltdown of Huet-ian magnitude, it is likely that Sunday’s contest was the last time that Ray Emery will start a game for the Chicago Blackhawks. Corey Crawford’s stretch run has been just this side of brilliant, going 7-1-1 in his last 9 games and allowing 1 goal or less 5 times. Crawford does best when facing 25 shots or fewer, so Chicago will have to make defense and shot-blocking a priority to get that level of performance from the lad. But you can bet that Head Coach Joel Quenneville knows exactly who his number 1 goaltender is for the playoffs.

Administrative nonsense: if you thought the list of injured Blackhawks was getting out of hand, Minnesota’s is downright ridiculous! Forwards Matt Cullen, Matt Kassian, Carson McMillan, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, and Guillaume Latendresse as well as defensemen Steve Kampfer, Jared Spurgeon, and Mike Lundin are all out of action tonight. Chicago’s press box denizens are listed above. In goal, Crawford is the announced starter for the Blackhawks, and the smart money is on Niklas Backstrom to tend goal for Minnesota.

7:00pm start at the Xcel Energy Center this evening. Comcast SportsNet has your television coverage; WGN AM-720 carries the game on broadcast radio; XM subscribers can tune in on channel 210; and Sirius Premiere customers will find the game on channel 216.

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