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At the Rink: Blackhawks at Blues

by Louie Korac / NHL.com

ST. LOUIS -- The rivalry itself is enough motivation for the St. Louis Blues when they play the Chicago Blackhawks. Having the opportunity to clinch the Central Division and earn home-ice advantage in the Western Conference First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs brings out more emphasis.

The Blues (49-24-7) and Blackhawks (48-26-7) renew their rivalry Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CSN-CH), four days after the Blues won 2-1 in Chicago to give themselves the opportunity to clinch.

The Blues, looking for their third 50-win season in franchise history and in back-to-back seasons, can clinch home ice in the first round with a victory. A Blues win and a Nashville Predators loss in regulation at home to the Minnesota Wild on Thursday would lock up the Central Division title for the second time in four seasons.

"I think you're more concerned about one thing: getting home ice," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "You can't pick who you're going to play. There's so many scenarios out there, but man, home ice is important. We want to get it. We win tonight, we've got home ice. That's the focus for the players, that's the focus for us.

"The opponent really doesn't matter. We know Chicago because we just played them a few days ago, so there's no surprises there. They're thinking the same thing, they want home ice too. Every advantage you can get in the playoffs is needed. We would like to win tonight to secure that."

The Blues, Predators and Blackhawks are separated by three points with two games remaining for all three.

"There's so many good teams in our division," Blues right wing Patrik Berglund said. "It's never, ever an easy game. We want to keep building. We know how good [the Blackhawks] are. If we're going to beat Chicago, we've got to play our best game. We're going to do the best we can to do that.

"[Home ice] is really important. It's important for everybody and obviously we want that."

The Blackhawks, who would have to win out and get help along the way to win the division or finish second for home ice in the first round, have the same mindset: pour everything into the final two regular-season games and see where they stand.

"You just worry about our team game, how we're going to play tonight," Blackhawks right wing Patrick Sharp said. "A couple days from now, let the chips fall where they may."

"Everybody looks at all the scenarios," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "I think we're down from eight possibilities to seven possibilities today. A lot of things will be sorted out by the end of tonight, but the fact that there's still that many choices at this stage is pretty unusual."

Here are the projected lineups:

BLACKHAWKS

Kris Versteeg - Jonathan Toews - Marian Hossa

Brandon Saad - Antoine Vermette - Kyle Baun

Bryan Bickell - Andrew Shaw - Patrick Sharp

Joakim Nordstrom - Andrew Desjardins - Teuvo Teravainen

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook

Johnny Oduya - Niklas Hjalmarsson

David Rundblad - Michal Rozsival

Corey Crawford

Scott Darling

Scratched: Michael Paliotta, Marcus Kruger

Injured: Patrick Kane (clavicle), Brad Richards (upper body), Kimmo Timonen (upper body), Daniel Carcillo (upper body)

BLUES

Jaden Schwartz - Paul Stastny - T.J. Oshie

Dmitrij Jaskin - David Backes - Patrik Berglund

Steve Ott - Jori Lehtera - Ty Rattie

Chris Porter - Marcel Goc - Ryan Reaves

Carl Gunnarsson - Alex Pietrangelo

Jay Bouwmeester - Zbynek Michalek

Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk

Jake Allen

Brian Elliott

Scratched: Chris Butler, Olli Jokinen

Injured: Alexander Steen (lower body), Vladimir Tarasenko (lower body), Robert Bortuzzo (upper body)

Status report: Steen, Tarasenko and Bortuzzo all joined the morning skate but will not play. They are improving. "They've been skating out of the limelight of the media for a little while now," Hitchcock said. "It's nothing new; they just happened to join us today. Rather than go on early, which they've done very early in the morning, they came and joined us." Porter replaces Jokinen in the lineup because Hitchcock wants "fresh legs."... Kane and Timonen did not accompany the Blackhawks on the trip. Kruger (illness) will not play. Desjardins will play and take Kruger's place after being a healthy scratch Tuesday.

Who's hot: Schwartz has six points (four goals, two assists) the past four games. Pietrangelo has a goal and two assists the past three games. ... Hossa has a goal and five assists the past six games.

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