Preview: Blackhawks at Penguins
The Pittsburgh Penguins were having trouble buying a win just over a month into the season and were looking nothing like the team that had hoisted the Stanley Cup twice in the previous three seasons. That seems like a distant memory for the white-hot Penguins, who are seeking their ninth consecutive victory when they host the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday night.
Pittsburgh matched its longest winning streak since a 15-game run in March 2013 with a 4-0 drubbing of Central Division-leading Winnipeg on Friday night. "If you go through a season and you don't face a lot of adversity you're inevitably going to face it in the playoffs," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan told reporters. "The adversity this team has faced early in the season has made us a better team." The Blackhawks had been on a roll with wins in five of six games before dropping a 4-2 decision to Boston in the Winter Classic and falling to the New York Islanders 3-2 in overtime despite 47 saves from rookie Collin Delia. All-Star Patrick Kane scored against the Islanders to give him eight goals in his last seven games.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network
ABOUT THE BLACKHAWKS (15-21-7): Delia has yet to lose in regulation in four career starts (3-0-1), helping to offset the absence of top netminder Corey Crawford, but he is not the only rookie making an impact for Chicago. Czech forward Dominik Kahun bounced back from a nine-game goal drought by scoring in back-to-back contests while playing on a line with captain Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad. “Hard work gets paid off,” Kahun told the Chicago Sun-Times. “That’s what I’ve done since I was little. I never got something given to me. I always had to do it myself. I try to work as hard as possible, and it’s coming.”
ABOUT THE PENGUINS (23-12-6): Goaltender Matt Murray staggered through the first six weeks of the season, permitting at least four goals in seven of his first 10 starts, but he has elevated his game since missing nearly a month due to injury. In seven starts since returning to the lineup on Dec. 15, Murray has been magnificent with a 7-0-0 record, including a pair of shutouts, along with a 1.27 goals-against average and .962 save percentage. "From that standpoint I think he's in a whole different place than he was mentally earlier in the year when it was a struggle not just for Matt but all of us," Sullivan told reporters.
1. Pittsburgh will honor members of its 2009 Stanley Cup championship team in a pregame ceremony on Sunday night.
2. Chicago F Drake Caggiula, recently acquired from Edmonton, joined the team for his first practice Saturday after resolving his visa issues.
3. Penguins captain C Sidney Crosby and D Kris Letang are each riding six-game point streaks.
PREDICTION: Penguins 4, Blackhawks 1