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While the Vancouver Canucks' struggles have finally pushed them out of playoff position, the Chicago Blackhawks are hoping Jonathan Toews' return will spark a postseason push that needs plenty of help.
The Canucks look to bounce back from yet another home loss Saturday night when they continue their season series with a Blackhawks team set to welcome back one its top young players.
Vancouver (27-22-7) has one win in its last six games and two in its last 11 to fall to ninth place in the Western Conference, one point behind Nashville. The Canucks have been particularly bad in recent weeks at General Motors Place, where they have lost consecutive games and five of their last six, including a 6-2 defeat against Colorado on Saturday night.
An inconvenient schedule may not help matters. Despite flying home overnight Thursday following a 2-1 win in Atlanta - their first victory in regulation since Jan. 4 - the Canucks are playing on back-to-back days.
Vancouver, though, has played well against Chicago (24-25-5) this season - winning both matchups between the teams - and is 9-1-0 at home against the Blackhawks since a 5-4 loss on Oct. 4, 2001.
But Henrik Sedin, who has 11 goals and 43 assists, has been held off the scoresheet in his last five games versus Chicago. Sedin scored on the power play Saturday, giving him two goals and three assists in a four-game point streak at home.
That goal, however, wasn't nearly enough as the Canucks - playing without their top defensemen - struggled against Colorado. Willie Mitchell (fractured vertebra), Kevin Bieksa (calf), Aaron Miller (foot) and Lukas Krajicek (shoulder) are all sidelined. Vancouver has yielded four goals or more in six of its last nine games.
Chicago, meanwhile, has scored three goals or less in each of its last eight contests, and is eager to get Toews back on the ice. The rookie center is expected to return Sunday after missing 16 games with a sprained left knee.
Toews was among the NHL rookie leaders with 32 points (15 goals, 17 assists) in 36 games before getting hurt during a game in Los Angeles on Jan. 1. Still, he ranks fourth on the Blackhawks in scoring, and his 15 goals are second only to Phoenix's Peter Mueller among all rookies.
"It's been long enough at this point," Toews said after practicing with a brace on his knee Saturday. "It's taken pretty good care of itself and I don't think anything is at risk by going out and playing at this point. We've given it enough time to rest up and recover properly."
The Blackhawks picked up their first win on a season-high seven-game road trip Thursday night, beating Calgary 3-1, but remain nine points out of a playoff spot in the West.
"The way the standings are in the league today, if you can string a few wins together you're right back in the middle of things," said Chicago winger Patrick Sharp, whose team started the trip (0-2-1). "We feel we have a team that can win and hopefully this can be the kick-start to a winning streak."
The Blackhawks need Nikolai Khabibulin to put together a strong run if they hope to make the postseason for the first time since 2002. The veteran ended a personal 10-game losing streak Thursday night, making 26 saves for his first win since Dec. 26.
Khabibulin, though, has a 3.94 goals-against average in losing his last four games in Vancouver.