Wild, Blackhawks square off in home-and-home set


Minnesota Wild forward Joel Eriksson Ek said he'll "definitely be ready to go" Friday night when the team visits Chicago for the first of back-to-back games against the Blackhawks. The teams will meet again Saturday night in Saint Paul, Minn.

Sidelined with an upper-body injury for much of the past month, Eriksson Ek waited an additional week to return to the lineup after entering COVID-19 protocol Jan. 13.

His next shift will be his first since Dec. 20, leaving the even-keeled Eriksson Ek further at peace.

"It's no fun to work out by myself and try to get back to get healthy," he said. "But I didn't miss a lot of games (five), and that probably helped me to not get too mad or too angry with the time I spent out."

Minnesota has been idle since Monday's 4-3 shootout loss to Colorado, which ended a three-game winning streak.

The Wild fell behind 2-0 after one period but remained persistent behind goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen, who made 35 saves. Kevin Fiala got Minnesota on the board with a goal 33 seconds into the second period.

"They could have scored so many goals in the first period, I thought," Fiala said, "and Kaapo just saved us and kept us in the game. ... We are a much better team than we were in the first period, and we came out and we scored a goal right away and then we kept on going, I felt like, and got better and better. And in the third, even better."

Kirill Kaprizov twice tied the score in the third, leading to overtime. Kaprizov has 12 points during a six-game points streak.

"He's a special player," Wild coach Dean Evason said.

Chicago also is eager to erase the sting of a shootout loss in its most recent game. Unable to maintain a one-goal lead entering the third period, the Blackhawks fell 3-2 at Seattle, ending a four-game winning streak.

Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 35 shots for Chicago and was brilliant as the Kraken controlled the pace during overtime. Fleury also turned aside a Jared McCann penalty shot in the third period.

"It's unbelievable sometimes, and today I was just sitting on the bench, watching the replay," said Chicago's Dominik Kubalik, who tallied a goal and assist. "What is he doing up there? I'm expecting it's already going in and somehow he always makes the save, so he gave us the point."

Kubalik has scored in three successive games, and his assist on Brandon Hagel's go-ahead goal late in the second period marked his 100th career NHL point.

Defenseman Seth Jones this week cleared COVID-19 protocols and is expected to rejoin the Blackhawks Friday. Jones has been among the team's steadiest and sturdiest on the blue line this season, so his return figures to bolster the unit while perhaps giving Fleury a bit more breathing room.

Then again, Fleury has shone regardless of the circumstances lately. He is 4-0-1 with a .956 save percentage over his past five starts.

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