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Blackhawks feeling good as Blue Jackets pay visit

by Brian Hunter /
BLUE JACKETS (17-14-3) at BLACKHAWKS (19-14-3)


Last 10:
Columbus 3-5-2; Chicago 6-3-1

Season series:
Third of six meetings between these Central Division rivals. Patrick Sharp scored a pair of second-period goals as Chicago ruined the home opener for Columbus with a 5-2 win on Oct. 15, but the Blue Jackets got some payback eight days later when they rallied from a two-goal deficit and edged the Blackhawks 3-2 at the United Center as Antoine Vermette assisted on the tying score and set up the winner.

Big story: One of these teams enjoyed its holiday break a lot more than the other. Chicago has had the past three days off since beating Nashville 4-1 on Wednesday for its third win in a row. Columbus, on the other hand, fell behind 6-0 and lost 7-3 at home to Vancouver on Thursday. The Blue Jackets were criticized sharply by coach Scott Arniel afterward for their poor compete level.

Team Scope:

Blue Jackets:
All the advantages seemed to be in favor of Columbus, which had home ice and was rested while Vancouver had lost a tough overtime game in Detroit the night before. But they play the games on ice, not on paper, and the Canucks dominated the first 35 minutes as six different players scored goals. Raffi Torres ended up with a pair and the line of Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin and Alexandre Burrows tormented the Blue Jackets all night. RJ Umberger ended up scoring twice in defeat, little consolation as far as Arniel was concerned.

"It didn't look like we really wanted to play tonight in the first period, let alone the rest of the game," he said. "It was an embarrassing game. I want to apologize to the fans. Professional athletes are paid to perform and when you don't do your job you're going to get criticized."

After eliminating Nashville from the Stanley Cup Playoffs last spring in a hard-fought, six-game series, Chicago had lost the first two of this season's series against the Predators. The Blackhawks are on a solid roll right now, though, and Jack Skille made sure it continued with a pair of goals to back up Corey Crawford and his 24 saves in net. The team is playing its best hockey of the season at the UC, where it wraps up a five-game homestand against the Blue Jackets.

"We played smart," Skille said. "When we're playing this way, we do a pretty good job. We're not trying to make the pretty play."

Who's hot: Umberger is second on the Blue Jackets in scoring with 24 points, two behind captain Rick Nash. … Bryan Bickell is on a tear for the Blackhawks, recording goals in six of his last eight games. He has 4 goals and 2 assists during a five-game points streak.

Injury report: Columbus forward Derek MacKenzie (groin) is on injured reserve. … Chicago forwards Patrick Kane (ankle) and Viktor Stalberg (upper body) could return to the lineup, while forward Marian Hossa (lower body) probably isn't far behind.

Stat pack: Tom Sestito has made the most of his latest call-up to the Blue Jackets, scoring his first two NHL goals, adding an assist and recording 35 penalty minutes in seven games. … Crawford has 11 wins in 18 games for the Blackhawks and has a .952 save percentage during a current three-game winning streak.

Puck drop:
"We might have been able to use a couple of those (off days) during the early part of our schedule when it seemed like we were really busy," coach Joel Quenneville told the Chicago Tribune after Wednesday's victory. "But for everybody it will be nice to get away now and spend some time with family and friends and come back with that same attitude.

"It's nice going into the break feeling good, being confident and knowing the recipe for success is basically how we played the last three games. Build off of that."

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