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BLACKHAWKS (40-15-5) at BLUE JACKETS (25-28-9)
Last 10: Chicago 6-3-1; Columbus 6-4-0
Season series: Fourth of six meetings this season between Central Division rivals. The Blackhawks have taken the first three matchups, which includes sweeping a home-and-home last month: 3-0 in Chicago on Jan. 14 (Cristobal Huet made 24 saves for the shutout) and 6-5 in Columbus on Jan. 16 (Jonathan Toews scored a pair of power-play goals in a third-period rally). Brent Seabrook scored in the 11th round of a shootout on Dec. 1 for a 4-3 win at the United Center.
Big story: While these teams reside at opposite ends of the Western Conference standings, the Blue Jackets aren't giving up on a second consecutive playoff berth just yet. A win today would send them into the Olympic break eight points out of the final spot, although there are five other teams who find themselves closer to eighth. The Blackhawks, meanwhile, look to close to within two points of the idle Sharks for the top seed.
Blackhawks: Now recognized throughout the League as one of the elite, Chicago has been getting everyone's best efforts. The Blackhawks suffered through a recent three-game losing streak, but have turned that right around by winning three in a row. Facing the Thrashers on Saturday, they watched a 3-1 lead turn into a 4-3 deficit but rallied on a Dave Bolland goal in the third and won 5-4 thanks to a Toews goal in the shootout.
"We got some easier goals in the first period and maybe we thought the game was already over," Toews told the Chicago Tribune. "We can't expect to just walk over a team. We have to keep that effort consistent."
Blue Jackets: Columbus was less than 20 minutes from improving to a perfect 4-0 under new coach Claude Noel, but Vancouver had other ideas Friday, rallying for a pair of third-period goals and handing the Blue Jackets a 4-3 defeat. It was an agonizing result, but Noel spoke positively about his players afterward.
"They were quiet in the room after the game," he told the Columbus Dispatch. "I really like the fact that they sat there. They weren't happy at all, and that shows me how much they care. They wanted to win this game very badly."
Who's hot: Patrick Sharp has three straight multi-point efforts for Chicago, totaling two goals and five assists. Patrick Kane has two goals and three assists in his last three games. … Columbus captain Rick Nash has goals in three straight and a six-game points streak. Raffi Torres has two goals and an assist during a three-game points streak.
Injury report: Marian Hossa was flattened by a Colby Armstrong check Saturday, left the game and is questionable to play Sunday, according to Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. John Madden and Ben Eager missed Saturday's game with lower-body injuries. … Rostislav Klesla (groin) and Mike Commodore (charley horse) are on injured reserve and Fredrik Modin (foot) is day-to-day for the Blue Jackets.
Stat pack: Chicago drew 22,275 fans to the United Center on Saturday, the largest crowd of the season and the team's 81st consecutive sellout. … Columbus has gotten on the scoreboard first in each of its last six games.
Puck drop: The Blackhawks have Stanley Cup aspirations this season and were willing to part with a piece of the future when they swapped young defenseman Cam Barker with the Wild for veteran blueliner Kim Johnsson. The move paid early dividends as Johnsson scored Saturday in the opening period of his debut for his new team.
"I got a great feed by Kane there and Toews had a great screen," Johnsson told the Tribune. "So all I had to do was hit the net."