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GAME DAY: Chicago

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

BLUE JACKETS (10-12-5) VS. BLACKHAWKS (21-2-3)




Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards equated tonight's game kind of like a prize fight: you always want a shot at the top dog, and in this case, the Chicago Blackhawks are playing the role of Muhammad Ali. They are the No. 1 target in the NHL, and holding a record of 21-2-3 through 26 games, it's not hard to see why.

The Blackhawks opened the 2013 season by going unbeaten in regulation through their first 24 games, which garnered national headlines and drew comparisons to teams around pro sports. Like all good things eventually do, that streak ended last week in a loss to the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center in Denver -- and the Blackhawks looked like a tired club in that game. They gave up a ton of scoring chances to a speedy Avalanche group and allowed six goals in a 6-2 defeat, but their next outing against the Edmonton Oilers wasn't much better.

Chicago's puck management was not sharp and their miscues ended up in the back of their net, as the Oilers also put up a six-spot on the Blackhawks. It was a wild and crazy game, with the Oilers rushing out to a 4-0 lead before letting the Blackhawks get back into it. Edmonton had to kill off a late penalty in a one-goal game, hanging on for a 6-5 win at the United Center in a place they've played well over the years.

And entering tonight's game against the Blue Jackets, it's fair to expect the Blackhawks to want to rectify a lot of the mistakes they've made in the past two games.

They're expected to start Corey Crawford in net tonight, whose last appearance against the Blue Jackets was a 1-0 shutout on Feb. 24. If one thing has been a constant in the three-game season series to this point, it's that the Blue Jackets have given Chicago the most trouble of any team. Each contest has been a one-goal game and the most recent (Mar. 1 at United Center) was an overtime decision that could have gone either way, with both sides trading chances throughout the sudden death period.

It would surprise no one if tonight's game was another hard-fought contest. The Blue Jackets swept a home-and-home series over the weekend with Detroit and are eager to take at least one game from the Blackhawks before the season series is complete. Their last attempt at that will be tonight, and if Sergei Bobrovsky starts in net, it will be his first start against Chicago this season.

- The Blue Jackets have equaled a franchise record by earning at least one point in their last eight games (5-0-3).

- Columbus went 2-for-2 in man-down situations against the Canucks. They have now killed off 29 of their last 30 penalties and have not allowed a 5-on-4 power play goal since Feb. 18 at Anaheim, a span of 11 games.

- Derick Brassard skated in his 300th career game vs. Vancouver, becoming the 12th Blue Jacket to reach the milestone. Brassard marked the occasion by assisting on a second period goal by C Mark Letestu to extend his point streak to three games (1-2-3).

- Brandon Dubinsky returned to action on Tuesday, logging 19:36 after missing 11 games with a knee injury. He won a game-high 11 face-offs for Columbus and dished out five hits.

Johnny Oduya


2013 STATS: 0-8-8, 26 GP

When the Blackhawks traded for Oduya at the trade deadline a year ago, they were seeking a two-way defenseman who could handle top-four minutes on the back end. What they got was just that, and Oduya has been a great fit in coach Joel Quenneville's up-tempo system. He's a solid skater and has paired well with fellow Swede Niklas Hjalmarsson on the second unit, drawing top defensive assignments and playing big minutes on the penalty kill.

COLUMBUS: Artem Anisimov (lower body), day-to-day; Derek MacKenzie (upper body), day-to-day; Derek Dorsett(clavicle), on IR; James Wisniewski (foot), on IR; John Moore (shoulder), on IR

CHICAGO: Patrick Sharp (shoulder), out

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