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BLACKHAWKS (26-20-4) at BLUE JACKETS (23-21-5)
TV: CSN-CH (HD),FS-O (HD)
Last 10: Chicago 6-3-1; Columbus 3-5-2.
Season series: The Blackhawks have taken two of three from the Jackets this season, the most recent a 4-1 victory at the United Center on Dec. 26, 2010.
Big story: With All-Star weekend in the rearview mirror, Columbus and Chicago are both gearing up for the home stretch as they look to make a run at the postseason when the season opens its second half.
Blackhawks: While Chicago lost its last two games at the end of January, the Hawks appear to have spent most of the past month getting back on track. The Blackhawks won six of their previous eight games before the brief skid, but their only issue is that while they've remembered that winning feeling, the teams above them in the Central, Detroit and Nashville, seem to have never forgotten it meaning Chicago has merely kept pace with its recent improved play.
As it stands, the Hawks are third in the division with 10 points separating them from the first-place Red Wings, and their place in the overall West standings is considerably more tenuous. Chicago is in a three-way tie with San Jose and Colorado for the 7th spot in the West, but with the likes of Minnesota and Los Angeles nipping at the top eight's collective heels the Hawks could easily fall out of the picture with a slump. That could be an immediate possibility with Chicago opening a six-game road trip Tuesday, but if the Hawks can carry over their performances from this weekend's All-Star Game -- their four representatives combined for eight points Sunday afternoon -- the threat of a losing streak should be kept at bay.
Blue Jackets: Columbus didn't have quite the same representation at this past weekend's festivities, with just Rick Nash carrying the flag for the Jackets in Raleigh, but Nash acquitted himself well with a goal and an assist in Sunday's All-Star Game. While Nash's offensive talents are no surprise, his All-Star performance might be an extension of his current scoring groove. The sturdy pivot finished the first half on an eight-game point streak during which his name landed on the scoresheet 11 times.
It'd be nice for the Jackets if Nash could keep the streak going. Columbus is just five points out of the West's playoff field, but with five teams between it and the eight spot there is a significant amount of work to be done. The Blue Jackets have won three of their past five games, however, and goalie Steve Mason has lost just one of his last five starts in regulation, meaning the pieces could be there for Columbus to put together a serious run, but Mason's consistency, as well as the rest of the team's could be an issue. While the former Calder Trophy-winner has been solid lately, he is just two weeks removed from a loss to Detroit in which he gave up six goals.
Who's hot: Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews each tallied a goal and two assists in Raleigh Sunday, with Sharp becoming the first Blackhawk to take home MVP honors since Eric Daze in 2002. ... Nash has been the offensive leader for Columbus, but Derick Brassard has pulled his weight, as well, tallying eight points in the last six games.
Injury report: The Hawks may have to do without Marian Hossa, who is questionable with an illness. The Jackets will be missing Ethan Moreau, who has been out since early January with a rib injury, and may also be missing Rostislav Klesla, who is questionable with a lower-body injury.
Stat pack: If Chicago is going to make a run in the second half and gain some stability regarding the playoff picture, it could be tough to get the ball rolling. Surviving on the road, where they've won just 10 of 21 games, hasn't been the Hawks' strong suit.
Puck drop: If the Blackhawks have a bumpy start to their second half ahead of them -- the current road trip will take Chicago from Ohio to western Canada to Arizona and finally Texas -- they can at least hope a familiar foe will get their trek off on the right foot. Tuesday night opens a stretch that could very well determine the postseason fate of the defending champions.