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Blackhawks look to snap out of slump against Blues

by David Kalan
BLACKHAWKS (46-21-7) at BLUES (36-30-9)

Last 10: Chicago 3-5-2; St. Louis 6-4-0

Season series:
Chicago has taken three of four meetings with St. Louis this season, including the most recent, a 2-1 victory at the Scottrade Center on Feb. 6.

Big story: The Blues will look to keep their fading postseason hopes alive against a Hawks team that may suddenly be facing a crisis of confidence after back-to-back losses to cellar-dwelling Columbus.

Team Scope:

Blackhawks: After consecutive losses to the Blue Jackets, who sit in last place of the Central Division, it might do the Blackhawks good to get away from the media of the Windy City. After all, Chicago, which is opening a three-game road trip in St. Louis on Tuesday, has lost six of its last eight games, landing the Hawks in a slump at just the wrong time. With the regular season less than two weeks from its checkered flag, Chicago's tumble has dropped it from the top seed in the West to five points behind San Jose.

The last two games have been particularly rough, as Columbus outscored the Hawks by a stiff 12-5 margin. While the blue line is weaker without the injured Brian Campbell, a great deal of uncertainty rests between the pipes, where Antti Niemi appears to have supplanted Cristobal Huet for the No. 1 job. While Huet may have surrendered the starting role by allowing seven goals against Columbus last Thursday, Niemi, despite a stellar start to the season, may not necessarily be an improvement. Niemi has just three wins in his last nine appearances.

Blues: A year after a stunning run to the postseason, St. Louis finds itself with a new coach and on the outside looking in at the West playoff picture. The Blues are eight points behind eighth-place Colorado, and with six games remaining after Tuesday their chances of bridging the chasm are slim. Still, while there is air, the Blues plan to breathe, and to that end the team has pulled together an 8-4-1 mark in March to at least remain in the postseason discussion.

A win against Chicago on Tuesday would cap off a sweep of the Blues' current three-game homestand, and given the play of Chris Mason during the first two games it certainly seems plausible. Mason has rebounded from a three-game slump to win two straight starts while allowing a total of two goals. St. Louis will need more than goaltending to complete a miraculous run into the top eight, however, and the lagging offense could use a boost from Alex Steen and Andy McDonald, who are tied for the team lead with 21 goals. Steen has gone four games without lighting the lamp, while McDonald hasn't tallied in eight.

Who's hot:
Despite not reaching the scoresheet Sunday against Columbus, Patrick Kane continues to lead the offense for Chicago with 21 points in his last 17 games. … After recently becoming the 83rd player in NHL history to score 400 goals, Paul Kariya may be getting into a groove with four points in his last three games.

Injury report:
The Hawks are still without Kim Johnsson, who is out indefinitely with an upper-body injury, in addition to Brian Campbell, who is out for two months with a broken collarbone.

Stat pack:
While Chicago's power play isn't necessarily what ails its offense, the Hawks could certainly use a boost with the extra man. Although their power play is ranked 15th in the League, lately it has struggled mightily. The Blackhawks have converted on only 4 of their last 38 chances -- a mediocre 10.5 percent.

Puck drop: Given how these teams have played this month, one might assume the Blues were the team challenging for the West's top seed, but with the Hawks needing to right the ship before the postseason starts, a winning start to their current sojourn against a feisty St. Louis team could help put wind back in the sails.

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