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Blackhawks visit Blues in key Central battle

by Brian Hedger

BLACKHAWKS (27-7-6) at BLUES (24-7-5)


Last 10: Chicago 7-1-2; St. Louis 6-2-2

Season series: The St. Louis Blues have defeated the Chicago Blackhawks in the first two games of five games, with this being the last at Scottrade Center. The Blues won 3-2 in regulation Oct. 9 in St. Louis then earned the second point in a 3-2 shootout win Oct. 17 at United Center.

Big story: St. Louis trails Chicago by seven points for first place in the Central Division, but the Blackhawks have played four more games. Chicago is playing the second half of a back-to-back coming out of Christmas break; the Blackhawks defeated the Colorado Avalanche 7-2 Friday at United Center.

Team Scope:

Blackhawks: Chicago started a challenging stretch of the schedule on the right foot against the Avalanche. The offensive outburst was keyed by Patrick Sharp's hat trick and four-point game, which was paired with a four-point outing by captain Jonathan Toews (two goals, two assists).

Avalanche coach Patrick Roy predicted the Blackhawks would run away with the Central Division, but Chicago coach Joel Quenneville isn't worried about his team getting too comfortable.

"We don't talk too much about that," Quenneville said. "We know what our goals and objectives are. We prepare for the next opponent, St. Louis; we have a lot of respect for them and we know the meaning of that game. I wouldn't discount anybody in our division."

Blues: St. Louis went into the break on a sour note by dropping a 4-3 road game to the Calgary Flames in a shootout, allowing Mark Giordano's game-tying goal with 4.2 seconds left in regulation. The Blues had taken a 3-1 lead into the third period.

"It's beyond disappointing," captain David Backes said. "They turned it up a notch in the third there and we kind of thought we could sit on our heels and [Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak] made tremendous saves for the first 55 minutes and we kind of hung him out to dry there and they capitalized. Now we've got a disappointing feeling, rather than a satisfied one, leaving here."

St. Louis practiced Friday at Scottrade Center without leading scorer Alexander Steen (concussion), who was placed on injured reserve. Jaden Schwartz skated on the top line with Backes and T.J. Oshie at practice, but rookie forward Dmitrij Jaskin, called up from Chicago of the American Hockey League this past weekend, could draw another key starting role.

Who's hot: Sharp has five goals in his past two games and 10 in the past nine. … Blues forward Chris Stewart was named the NHL's No. 1 Star for the week after scoring six goals and adding an assist, including a hat trick.

Injury report: Blackhawks goaltenders Corey Crawford (lower body) and goalie Nikolai Khabibulin (lower body) are out. … Blues forward Vladimir Sobotka (upper body) will return to the lineup. Defenseman Jordan Leopold (hand), forward Ryan Reaves (broken hand), defenseman Roman Polak (lower body) and Steen (concussion) are on injured reserve.

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