Friday’s road contest marks the second and final time the Blackhawks and Columbus Blue Jackets will face off this season; the teams last met on March 6 at the United Center, a 6-1 trouncing by the home team. Andrew Shaw (2G), Marcus Kruger and Brent Seabrook (2A each) led the charge that night, while Corey Crawford stopped 22 of 23 shots. The Blackhawks last lost at Nationwide Arena on March 25, 2010, a span of eight road contests.
It’s possible that no player has taken a bigger step this season than Blue Jackets center Ryan Johansen, the fourth-overall pick in the 2010 NHL draft. In his third NHL season, the 21-year-old pivot has set career highs in nearly every offensive category, paces the Jackets with 30 goals and 55 points and is tied for third on the team with 25 helpers. Johansen currently leads Columbus in faceoffs taken; he and teammate Brandon Dubinsky make for a formidable duo at the dot, with both players winning around 53 percent of their draws.
Without regulars Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Johnny Oduya, the Blackhawks were forced to rely on their depth to pull out the 3-2 shootout win over Minnesota on Thursday; five players each recorded a point in the win, with goals from Bryan Bickell and Ben Smith and assists from Jeremy Morin, Nick Leddy and Brandon Saad. On the defensive end, Niklas Hjalmarsson recorded four blocked shots – adding to his team-leading 154 blocked shots on the year – while recent acquisition David Rundblad contributed five hits and three blocked shots. The Blackhawks will need another full team effort if they hope to take two points from Columbus.
The Blue Jackets pulled within two points of the Philadelphia Flyers for third place in the Metropolitan Division on Thursday, and they did so on the back of 2013 Vezina Trophy Winner Sergei Bobrovsky, who made 37 saves in the 2-0 whitewashing in Philly. “Bob” now sits within two victories of his first 30-win NHL campaign, and will no doubt see a lot of action the rest of the way, hoping to backstop the Jackets into the playoffs. The Russian netminder has a 2.42 goals-against average and .921 save percentage, both above his career average.
While many of the Metropolitan Division’s teams have rounded into shape as the season has gone on, the Blackhawks have largely dominated the division in head-to-head games this year. Chicago is 9-3-2 this season against the division, though they have dropped their last two matchups: a 4-1 loss in Pittsburgh and a 3-2 overtime decision at Philadelphia. Meanwhile, Columbus is just 5-5-2 against the Central Division, which includes their 3-2 overtime loss to Colorado on Tuesday.
With both teams having played on Thursday night, a key factor in Friday’s game will be which team has the fresher legs and the better depth to lean on in critical moments. Both teams have dealt with injuries lately, with Kane and Toews sidelined for the Blackhawks, and Nathan Horton and Ryan Murray dealing with issues of their own. However, very few teams in the NHL can match the Blackhawks’ depth, and relying on role players to take key minutes served Chicago well on Thursday. The winner on Friday will likely be the team who was able to grind out that extra goal when needed, and minimized mistakes in their own zone.