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BLACKHAWKS (43-19-15) at BLUE JACKETS (39-30-7)
TV: CSN-CH, FS-O
Last 10: Chicago 5-4-1; Columbus 5-4-1
Season series: The Chicago Blackhawks bring a 12-game winning streak against the Columbus Blue Jackets to Nationwide Arena, including a 6-1 victory at United Center on March 6. Chicago has won eight in a row in Columbus.
Big story: Each team comes into the second half of a back-to-back after a much-needed victory Thursday. Columbus bolstered its chances of advancing to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second time in franchise history with a 2-0 road victory against the Philadelphia Flyers. The Blackhawks beat the Minnesota Wild 2-1 in a shootout to stay within three points of the second-place Colorado Avalanche in the Central Division.
Blackhawks: Knowing they have a playoff berth locked up makes playing without star forwards Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews for the rest of the regular season a little more palatable for the Blackhawks. But the defending Stanley Cup champions have been struggling to score without two of their big guns. Against the Wild on Thursday, they got regulation goals from depth forwards Ben Smith and Bryan Bickell. Marian Hossa got the winner in the shootout, and Corey Crawford redeemed himself for allowing a game-tying goal late in regulation by stopping all three Minnesota shooters in the tiebreaker.
It wasn't the kind of high-flying hockey the United Center fans are used to seeing, but it got the job done.
"I thought we played the way we had to play. Playing it simple, advancing the puck, check-first mentality and five-man units all over the ice," coach Joel Quenneville said. "I thought we didn't give up much all game. ... Tough one to give up at the end, but I like the way [Crawford] battled back in the shootout. It was fun to get two points in an overtime game, which was something we haven't seen in a long time."
Blue Jackets: Columbus' first win ever in Philadelphia couldn't have come at a better time. The Blue Jackets were 0-5 with a tie at Wells Fargo Center coming in, but goals by James Wisniewski and Brandon Dubinsky were more than enough for the win with former Flyers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky stopping 37 shots.
"It's great for Bob," coach Todd Richards said. "You want to see good players and good guys do well, and Bob is that guy. It's never about him ... it's all about the team. You can ask any of the players; everybody in that room is really happy for him."
Bobrovsky was traded by the Flyers to the Blue Jackets in June 2012 and was playing in Philadelphia for the first time since the deal.
"It was special, definitely," he said. "It was exciting there. It was different. It's tough to explain but it was special."
The victory kept Columbus in the second wild-card position in the Eastern Conference. They come into the game one point ahead of the Toronto Maple Leafs and one behind the Detroit Red Wings, who own the first wild-card position. Columbus also moved within two points of the Flyers, who are third in the Metropolitan Division.
Who's hot: Chicago forward Ben Smith scored his career-high 11th goal on Thursday. … Wisniewski had a goal and an assist against the Flyers, giving him seven points in his past five games.
Injury report: Blackhawks forwards Kane (lower body) and Toews (upper body) won't be back until the playoffs. Defenseman Michal Rozsival (lower body) is also out, and defenseman Johnny Oduya didn't make the trip after missing the game against the Wild with a lower-body injury … The Blue Jackets are missing defenseman Nikita Nikitin (lower body), as well as forwards Nathan Horton (lower body) and Nick Foligno (lower body). Defenseman Ryan Murray, who had knee surgery March 7, will return to the lineup.