By Allan Muir
Some quick hits ahead of Tuesday night's Game 6 matchup between the Blackhawks and the Wild (9 p.m. ET, CNBC, TSN, RDS2):
• Based on today's skate, coach Joel Quenneville will stick with the lines that won Game 5 for Chicago: Patrick Sharp-Jonathan Toews-Marian Hossa; Brandon Saad-Michal Handzus-Patrick Kane; Bryan Bickell-Peter Regin-Kris Versteeg; Joakim Nordstrom-Marcus Kruger-Ben Smith.
• Some of the lines that Quenneville constructed during this series have put a premium on defensive balance, but this looks like a bid to charge out of the gate, grab an early lead and dare Minnesota to try to catch up. Makes a lot of sense. The Hawks struggled to score in games 3 and 4, putting the puck past Ilya Bryzgalov just twice in the two losses, so they'll push to make him sweat as quickly as possible. The Wild have won 21-of-26 games this season in which they led after the first period, but are just 6-for-27 in games they've trailed after the opening 20 minutes. Getting the opening goal -- and silencing the raucous Xcel Energy Center crowd -- is critical to Chicago's chances.
• Minnesota will stick with essentially the same lines they've rolled throughout: Nino Niederreiter-Mikko Koivu-Charlie Coyle; Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville; Matt Cooke-Erik Haula-Justin Fontaine; Dany Heatley-Kyle Brodziak-Cody McCormick.
•There will be two changes to the Wild's roster. Keith Ballard, who missed Game 5 after suffering a possible concussion in Game 4, steps back in on the third defense pair. Nate Prosser heads to the press box where he'll be joined by John Curry. Darcy Kuemper will back up Bryzgalov.
• Interesting decision by Wild coach Mike Yeo on dressing Kuemper. "It’s been kind of coming about for the last couple days," he said. "It’s tough between [Josh Harding] and Johnny Curry and Kuemps. Obviously we make sure that Bryz gets what he needs every morning, and we don’t have a ton of quality practice time right now, so when you have three guys pretty much sharing one net, it’s kind of difficult for any of those guys to get the workload that he needs. But [Kuemper] had a real good practice yesterday, he felt really good, so this has been coming for a couple of days. We're happy to have him back."
• No doubt they are. Kuemper is clearly a steadier presence in net than Bryzgalov, who has given up a couple of softies in this series (including two in Minnesota's Game 4 win). It does beg the question, though: If Kuemper is healthy enough to dress, why isn't he starting? The guess here is that Yeo doesn't want to throw him directly into the fire of an elimination game. Considering that Kuemper missed the first six matches of this series after being concussed early in Game 7 against Colorado, Yeo's caution makes good sense. There's also an argument to be made that Kuemper is more valuable coming out of the bullpen. If Bryzgalov falters -- and look for him to be on a very short leash with the season on the line -- you can imagine the emotional lift it would give Kuemper's teammates to see him skating into the crease.
• The Wild are 5-0 and have outscored their opponents 16-5 in home games so far this postseason. Can they run their streak to six? The key may be their third line. Matt Cooke set the tone early in Game 5 with a relentless forecheck and a couple of takeaways, one of which led to Fontaine's opening tally. If that trio gets it going, look for Minnesota to send the series back to Chicago for Game 7.