Ducks (41-28-5, 87 points) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (40-25-8, 88) at United Center, 5:30 p.m. PT.
Five storylines to track:
1. Too much too soon? – Jonas Hiller didn’t last long in his return to goal Thursday night in Nashville. After a 15-game absence because of vertigo-like symptoms, Hiller gave up three goals on nine shots before getting the hook in the first period. The Ducks staged a late comeback but ultimately lost, 5-4. Did the Ducks rush their All-Star goalie back into the lineup too soon? If they wind up missing the playoffs by a point or two, the decision to test Hiller in such a big game will be ripe for second-guessing.
2. Drum roll please – For the second straight game, the Ducks will be playing a team that’s one point and one spot ahead in the Western Conference standings. They couldn’t leapfrog Nashville, but they’ll get another chance against the seventh-place Blackhawks. It won’t come easy as Chicago has won six consecutive home games and five of its last six against Anaheim at United Center. Chicago coach Joel Quenneville is also calling this the biggest game of the season, a rallying cry that has surely been heard by his players.
3. Getting noticed – There’s usually not a lot of talk of Hart Memorial Trophy winners in these parts. The only people West of Colorado and South of Vancouver to win the league’s most valuable player award was Wayne Gretzky of the Kings in 1988-89 and Joe Thornton, who spent part of the 2005-06 season with the San Jose Sharks. The chatter has picked up with every goal by Corey Perry of the Ducks, however. He scored his 41stand 42nd of the season against the Predators to move one behind Steven Stamkos of Tampa Bay for the league lead.
4. Not as sharp – The Ducks won’t have to deal with Chicago center Patrick Sharp, who left Sunday’s game against Phoenix because of a left knee injury and is expected to miss a majority of the team’s final nine games. Sharp has a team-high 34 goals and is second with 68 points. He has nine goals and eight assists in 20 career games against Anaheim. Viktor Stalberg has moved into a top-line role for the Blackhawks but he’s hardly the offensive dynamo that they'll miss in Sharp.
5. Chicago’s own Corey– The Blackhawks are expected to start rookie Corey Crawford in goal, and he needs one victory to become the first Chicago goalie to record 30 wins in a season since Jocelyn Thibault in 2001-02. Crawford played his first NHL game five years ago but because he has had just a handful of appearances before this season and did not turn 26 until December, he retained his rookie status, making him a viable candidate for the Calder Trophy. Crawford earned his first career shutout against the Ducks two years ago.