Regardless of who’s in net or who’s healthy, the Chicago Blackhawks have proven to be near-impossible to beat lately.
They continue a four-game road trip Thursday night against the Boston Bruins, who could have captain Zdeno Chara back in their lineup for the first time in nearly two months.
Chicago (19-8-1) has rolled to a season-best seven-game win streak and 10 in 11 games despite the absence of two key players. Corey Crawford, who ranks among the league leaders with a 1.87 goals against average, has missed the last four games with a foot injury. In his place, Antti Niemi and rookie Scott Darling have combined to allow seven goals in four wins.
Darling picked up the most recent victory Tuesday in a 3-2 shootout win against New Jersey.
The Blackhawks had also played much of the season — and the first six games of the current win streak — without their leading scorer from last season, Patrick Sharp. Sharp returned Tuesday and picked up his first point since suffering a lower-body injury on Nov. 4.
“We have some momentum right now,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville told the team’s official website. “We just want to sustain it.”
Momentum is something the Bruins (15-12-1) have been seeking, winning just two of their last seven games (2-4-1). Getting Chara — their captain and best defenseman — back should help in that regard. Chara has missed the last 19 games with a knee injury, but could return Thursday.
“There were a lot of teams happy to plays us with him out of our lineup, no doubt, and there’s going to be a lot of teams sad to see him back in our lineup,” coach Claude Julien told the team’s official website. “So we’re excited to have him back soon, and hopefully that happens Thursday.”
Chara’s presence would certainly be useful against the potent Blackhawks, who are scoring 3.43 goals per game during their streak, while holding opponents to 1.57. Seventeen players have tallied a point in that time, led by Patrick Kane and Kris Versteeg, who have eight apiece.
Duncan Keith has five points in that span, including Tuesday’s game-tying goal in the third period.
“We’ve always had confidence in our team, especially in our offensive ability with guys who can put the puck in the net and a mobile defense corps,” Keith said. “It’s a matter of sticking with it, being patient. We’ve been in situations where we’ve been down, but it’s not over until the buzzer sounds.”
Boston managed to cap off a four-game road trip with a 5-2 win Saturday over Arizona, ending a three-game skid.
“We didn’t want to go back home having not won a game,” Julien said. “I thought we played well enough on this trip that somewhere along the way we should come out with a win. This was our last crack at it, and we found a way to get that win that we desperately needed.”
Prior to Saturday’s win, Boston had not scored a power play goal since Nov. 13 or had five or more goals since Nov. 6. They had scored more than two goals just twice in the previous 11 games.
Tuukka Rask should be thrilled to return home. He’s 9-3-1 with a 1.99 GAA at TD Garden compared to 3-5-0 with a 3.61 GAA on the road. Since losing to the Blackhawks in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, Rask has allowed two goals in two games against Chicago, including a 3-0 shutout March 27.
The Bruins are 7-1-2 in their last 10 regular-season meetings against the Blackhawks.