Blackhawks Continue Playoff Push In Columbus
As the Chicago Blackhawks try to put the finishing touches on their playoff push, they can’t let any opportunity for points go to waste. Good for them they’ve consistently beat the Columbus Blue Jackets lately.
Clinging to eighth place in the Western Conference, Chicago will try for its seventh win in nine road games against the Blue Jackets on Friday night.
The Blackhawks (41-27-8) pulled out a 3-2 overtime victory over rival Detroit on Monday to open a three-game trip, but Boston dealt them a 3-0 defeat the next night.
Chicago was outshot 30-17 over the first two periods before posting a 15-4 advantage in the third. That didn’t help the Blackhawks get anything past the league’s top goaltender, Tim Thomas.
“There’s a big premium on these points right now,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We can’t be happy. We just got to be excited about Friday and move on.”
Quenneville’s club could be thrilled to see Nationwide Arena after winning twice there this season while scoring a combined 12 goals. The Blackhawks are also 6-1-1 in their last eight games there but won’t have injured top-line winger Patrick Sharp, who has 13 goals and 11 assists in his last 17 games versus Columbus.
Since Sharp’s left knee injury, the Blackhawks have struggled to find a left wing to go with captain Jonathan Toews and Stanley Cup hero Patrick Kane on their top line. After Troy Brouwer and Viktor Stalberg failed to click, Quenneville is expected to give Bryan Bickell a chance Friday.
Columbus, meanwhile, might not have captain and scoring leader Rick Nash available because of an undisclosed injury. He missed Thursday’s game in Washington and is expected to be re-evaluated before this game.
Despite that injury, the Blue Jackets (34-31-12) gave Southeast Division leader Washington all it could handle. Columbus rallied from three one-goal deficits but fell 4-3 in overtime on a tip-in halfway through the extra period. The loss eliminated the Blue Jackets from playoff contention.
“We battled hard,” center Antoine Vermette said. “We didn’t give up. That’s what I like about that game.”
Nash’s replacement, Tomas Kubalik, had two assists in his NHL debut. Steve Mason stopped 29 shots, but Mathieu Garon might start Friday in the second of back-to-back contests.
Neither goaltender has fared well against Chicago. Garon is 0-3-1 with a 4.32 goals-against average in his last five matchups, while Mason is 2-2-0 with a 4.12 GAA in his four this season.
Corey Crawford is expected to make his 22nd consecutive start for the Blackhawks but is 0-2-0 with a 3.56 GAA versus the Blue Jackets. Backup Marty Turco, meanwhile, is 3-0-0 with a 2.33 GAA this season and 17-4-2 with a 2.22 GAA in 23 career matchups.
Columbus’ R.J. Umberger has a team-best five points this season against Chicago and his two second-period assists helped rally his team to a 4-3 road win Feb. 18.
The Blackhawks hold a 3-2-0 series edge this season but remember a pair of late-season defeats to the Blue Jackets in 2009-10, which cost them a chance at the West’s No. 1 seed. One of those was an 8-3 drubbing at Nationwide.
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