The Columbus Blue Jackets have already been eliminated from the Western Conference playoff race. If the Chicago Blackhawks don't win Tuesday night, they'll also see their slim postseason hopes come to an end.
The Blackhawks try to stave off elimination when they conclude a five-game road trip with a visit to Columbus.
Even if Chicago can beat the Blue Jackets, it's all but certain to miss the playoffs for the fourth straight season and eighth time in the last nine seasons. The Blackhawks and Blue Jackets both have 63 points, but Chicago has played one less game.
If Chicago loses in regulation or Calgary - the eighth-place team in the conference - beats Detroit on Tuesday, the Blackhawks are eliminated. The Flames are 21 points ahead of Chicago.
The Blackhawks (27-35-9) were playing well before a 5-2 loss to Anaheim on Friday dropped them to 2-2 on the road trip. Chicago had gone 4-1 in its previous five games following a stretch in which it lost eight of nine.
"It was a tough game, they are a good team," Chicago coach Denis Savard said. "We spent a lot of energy battling back in L.A. (on Thursday), and this was our third game in four nights. It was a tough night."
The Blackhawks have been encouraged by the split on the road trip so far. After Tuesday, Chicago begins a six-game homestand.
"We've played some good teams on the road, we're getting a better effort overall," said Blackhawks backup goalie Patrick Lalime, who replaced starter Nikolai Khabibulin on Friday after he allowed five goals on 17 shots.
While Chicago clings to what little hope it has, the Blue Jackets (28-37-7) already know they will miss the postseason again. The franchise has yet to make the playoffs since entering the NHL in 2000-01, and Columbus needs seven wins in its last 10 games just to match last season's total of 35.
The Blue Jackets lost 5-3 to Los Angeles on Saturday, finishing 1-3 on a road trip. Columbus gave up 10 power-play opportunities to the Kings, who scored twice with the man advantage. In their previous three games, the Blue Jackets had killed off all 15 short-handed situations.
"We were in plenty of trouble right away, and that set us back," said Columbus center Geoff Platt, who scored twice Saturday and has three NHL goals, all against Los Angeles. "We kept taking more penalties and giving them more opportunities. They capitalized on it and kept putting us down even further."
The Blue Jackets alternate home and away in their next eight games before closing the season with two contests at Nationwide Arena.
Columbus and Chicago have split their six meetings this season, with each team scoring 21 goals. They meet for the final time on March 30 at the United Center.
- Associated Press