Earlier this season, a matchup with the Carolina Hurricanes might have given the Chicago Blackhawks a good chance to conclude their season-high, eight-game road trip with another victory.
The Hurricanes, though, haven't been easy to beat lately thanks in large part to a red-hot Eric Staal.
Carolina will try to earn a season-high fourth win Saturday night by spoiling the end of a successful trip for Chicago.
The Blackhawks and Hurricanes couldn't have gotten off to much different starts to this season. The Blackhawks (37-13-4) surged to the front of the Central Division by winning 16 of their first 23, while the Hurricanes (18-28-7) were 5-17-5 over the season's first two months, including a franchise-worst 0-10-4 skid from Oct. 10-Nov. 13.
Chicago has continued to earn victories even during a daunting eight-game trek in which its played in three different time zones. Over 15 days, the Blackhawks will have traveled about 9,000 miles and they'll fly into their finale from across the country after beating Western Conference-leading San Jose 4-3 in overtime Thursday night.
Chicago scored three goals in the first 8:23, but allowed the Sharks to rally for the tying score with 15:04 remaining in regulation. Troy Brouwer, however, helped his team improve to 5-2 on its trip by tallying his second goal of the game 97 seconds into the extra period.
"It definitely was a good way to measure ourselves in how we're developing, and how we're coming along as a team," captain Jonathan Toews said. "That game could go either way. We're glad we worked hard, and got the result that we wanted."
The Blackhawks' final task in their journey is to stop a Hurricanes team that's outscored its opponents 14-3 over the past three games and 21-9 while winning four of five. Carolina is also seeking a season high-tying third straight victory at home after topping the New York Islanders 4-1 on Thursday night.
Staal scored in his fifth straight game since taking over as captain Jan. 21 and added an assist. He has eight goals and four assists during a seven-game point streak.
"Usually with me, it comes in bunches," Staal said. "So I try to make sure I'm taking it to the net as much as I can and shooting from every angle. Right now, they're falling."
Carolina's Cam Ward made 26 saves in his 21st consecutive appearance and has stopped 90 of the last 93 shots he's faced. Ward has a 0.97 goals-against average in two all-time matchups with the Blackhawks but suffered a 3-2 shootout defeat last season at the United Center.
Staal assisted on Tuomo Ruutu's tying goal with 27 seconds remaining in regulation, but Ward couldn't stop three of four Blackhawks shooters in Carolina's first loss to Chicago since April 3, 1999.
Staal had a goal and two assists in the first period of a 3-0 win on March 12, 2008, which capped the Hurricanes' run of seven wins and one tie in their eight previous matchups against the Blackhawks.
Carolina hasn't lost to Chicago in Raleigh since Jan. 14, 1998, but the teams are playing their first game there since Dec. 13, 2005.
The Blackhawks might put Cristobal Huet in net again, giving him a chance to earn a season high-tying third consecutive road victory and his fifth straight over the Hurricanes.
Huet stopped 29 shots in last season's victory and denied Carolina's final two attempts in the shootout.