BLACKHAWKS (41-27-8) at BLUE JACKETS (34-31-12)
TV: CSN-CH (HD), FS-O (HD)
Last 10: Chicago 4-4-2; Columbus 3-4-3
Season series: Sixth and final meeting of the season between these Central Division rivals. The Blackhawks hold a 3-2 lead and have recorded the only victory by a home team in the series, 4-1 on Dec. 26. Patrick Sharp, currently out with a knee injury for Chicago, leads all scorers with 7 goals. Derick Brassard has 3 goals for Columbus.
Big story: At this point last season, the Blackhawks had the Central all but wrapped up en route to their first Stanley Cup championship in 49 years. Now, it appears they'll go right down to the wire in trying to secure a Western Conference playoff berth and the chance to defend their title. The Blue Jackets were eliminated from playoff contention with an overtime loss to the Capitals on Thursday, but this game presents a prime opportunity for Columbus to play spoiler and try to ensure Chicago is also on the outside looking in at season's end.
Blackhawks: Ever since an eight-game winning streak bridging the end of February and the beginning of March gave Chicago the chance to establish itself higher up in the pack of West teams jostling for playoff positioning, the Blackhawks have endured a mediocre stretch. Now they need to kick it back into gear and stave off last-gasp challenges by the Stars and Flames. After a critical overtime win in Detroit on Monday, the Hawks visited Boston and got blanked 3-0 by Tim Thomas and company on Tuesday.
"Every game is a huge two points," coach Joel Quenneville said. "You've got to value every two points. There's a big premium on these points right now. We can't be happy. We just got to be excited about Friday and move on."
Blue Jackets: Give Columbus credit for not going down without a fight as its season winds down. In Washington on Thursday against a Capitals team chasing the top seed in the Eastern Conference, the Blue Jackets rallied from three separate one-goal deficits before falling 4-3 in the extra period on a Jason Chimera goal. Antoine Vermette and Fedor Tyutin scored in the second period and Scottie Upshall forced the extra period by connecting with 5:37 left in the third.
"We battled hard -- we came back from behind three times," Vermette said. "We didn't give up. That's what I like about that game tonight."
Who's hot: Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews has 12 goals and 13 assists over his last 19 games. Patrick Kane has 7 goals and 14 assists in his last 19 games, while Marian Hossa, who scored in OT to beat the Red Wings, has 11 goals and 9 assists in his last 17 games. … Vermette and Upshall each have goals in consecutive games for the Blue Jackets.
Injury report: Sharp, who leads Chicago with 34 goals, hopes to return before the end of the regular season. Forward Dave Bolland is day-to-day with an upper-body injury, while defenseman Jordan Hendry is out for the season following knee surgery. … Columbus captain Rick Nash missed Thursday's game with an undisclosed injury that will be re-evaluated on Friday. Defenseman Grant Clitsome (knee) and forward Ethan Moreau (bruised foot) are day-to-day. Forwards Kristian Huselius, Andrew Murray and Chris Clark are all sidelined with lower-body injuries.
Stat pack: Rookie goalie Corey Crawford has seized the Blackhawks' No. 1 job heading into the playoffs, but he's lost both his starts against the Blue Jackets this season while veteran Marty Turco is 3-0 with a 2.33 goals-against average and .924 save percentage, including wins in both of the previous games played at Nationwide Arena.
Puck drop: This concludes a three-game road trip for Chicago, which will alternate home and road games the rest of the way. The Blackhawks have Tampa Bay, St. Louis and Detroit left at the United Center while traveling to face Montreal and Detroit.