Blackhawks-Canucks Preview

The Associated Press

The Vancouver Canucks and Chicago Blackhawks expect to continue their respective pushes for the top spot in the Western Conference in the final months of the season.

Trying to avoid a third straight defeat, the Blackhawks' pursuit will get an immediate boost with the return of two star players as they open a nine-game road trip against the Canucks on Tuesday night.

After entering the All-Star break with two straight losses to Nashville, Chicago (29-15-6) received some good news Tuesday afternoon when it learned both Jonathan Toews (wrist) and Patrick Sharp (hand) would come off injured reserve to face Vancouver.

Toews, who has a team-leading 27 goals, missed a 3-1 loss to the Predators last Tuesday. Sharp, who has 20 goals and 20 assists, has sat out the last eight games.

The Blackhawks will also likely welcome a new face to the lineup Tuesday as veteran center Brendan Morrison, acquired Friday from Calgary, may make his debut. Morrison, who had four goals and seven assists in 28 games with the Flames, played for the Canucks from 2000-2008.

"I don't think you could ask for a better first game, really," he told the Blackhawks' official website. "It's going to be a playoff-style game. These teams have battled hard the past couple of years. ... I spent a lot of my time in Vancouver, had a lot of good years there, but I have kind of moved on. But it's fun to go back to the city where you established yourself."

The Blackhawks could use a lift after being outscored 8-3 in the last two games versus Nashville. Chicago is fourth in the competitive Central Division, but only three points out of first. With 64 points, the Blackhawks are tied with Vancouver (30-15-4), which holds the second seed in the West by virtue of leading the Northwest Division.

Heated rivals who have faced each other in each of the last three playoffs and have won the last two conference titles, Chicago and Vancouver split their first two meetings this season. The Canucks rolled to a 6-2 win at Chicago on Nov. 6, but the Blackhawks won 5-1 at Vancouver 10 days later.

"There's still stuff behind the whistles and stuff you guys don't see,'' Chicago All-Star Patrick Kane said of the rivalry. "That's part of the way we want to come and play it - keep it tame and try to get them frustrated a little bit.''

Marian Hossa had three assists while Toews and Kane each added a goal and an assist Nov. 16 as Chicago won for the second time in its last three visits to Vancouver, including playoffs.

"(It's) definitely a good time for us in here," said Kane, who has one goal in his last 10 games overall but two goals and two assists in his last four regular season and playoff contests versus Vancouver.

Hossa, who has three goals and eight assists in his last nine games, has two goals and five assists in his last three games at Vancouver.

Teammate Dave Bolland has seven goals and three assists in his last nine games. Though Bolland has been known to rattle the Sedin twins, Henrik has a goal with four assists against the Blackhawks this season while Daniel has added one goal and three assists.

Vancouver tries for a third consecutive victory after a pair of one-goal wins over San Jose and Edmonton prior to the break followed two losses to open a stretch of six straight home games.

"We still feel like we're in control and we're confident, and that's the sign of a good team, to be able to win those close games and stay even-keeled,'' defenseman Kevin Bieksa said.

Daniel Sedin, who scored his team-leading 21st goal in last Tuesday's 3-2 shootout win over the Oilers, has three goals and one assist in his last five games.

Roberto Luongo has won the Canucks' last two contests, but backup Cory Schneider is expected to be in net Tuesday looking to win his fourth straight start. He made 22 saves in a home loss to the Blackhawks in November.