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Blue Jackets and Hawks continue playoff quests

by David Kalan
BLUE JACKETS (28-23-6) at BLACKHAWKS (29-22-6)

TV -- FS-Ohio (HD), CSN-Chicago (HD)

Last 10 -- Columbus 6-3-1; Chicago 4-4-2.

Season series -- Chicago has won three of four games between the division rivals this season, taking the last meeting 7-4 in Columbus on Feb. 1.

Big story -- In a tumultuous week for the Blackhawks, Chicago is fighting to stay alive in the postseason hunt without coach Joel Quenneville, who was admitted to the hospital Wednesday for what doctors are saying is internal bleeding caused by a small ulcer. While Quenneville is expected to make a full recovery, the Hawks may not, and Friday's matchup with a Columbus team that has suddenly entered the playoff discussion will only make life more difficult for Chicago.

Team Scope:

Blue Jackets -- Much of this season has not been kind to the Blue Jackets, but with the West's playoff race still tightly packed, the Jackets ridden a five-game road winning streak into postseason contention. Still 12th in the West, Columbus is just two points behind Chicago, which has been in and out of the top eight all season. The Jackets' road heroics haven't come against slouches either -- they have wins in both Pittsburgh and Detroit.

Steve Mason has been in net for each of those road wins, but a case of bronchitis kept him out of Columbus' 4-3 shootout loss to the Kings on Wednesday at Nationwide Arena. Mason may be available for the start Friday, which would certainly serve the Jackets well -- the 2009 Calder Trophy winner has won four of his last five starts. Bolstering Columbus on the offensive end could be Jakub Voracek who has tallied six points in the last five games.

Blackhawks -- Quenneville's absence is another hurdle in what has already been a difficult and inconsistent season for the Hawks. Despite the uncertainty, assistant coach Mike Haviland ably guided Chicago to a big 3-1 win against Minnesota on Wednesday night at the United Center. While that win could provide a boost for the Blackhawks, who haven't lost in regulation in four games, the road back to the postseason to defend their Cup is still a long one. Chicago was four points back of the final playoff spot before action started Thursday night, with the Hawks sitting in 11th place, there are still several teams to leap frog.

The Blackhawks hope to have Quenneville back on the bench within a few games, but the bigger question is whether the consistency that has eluded them all season will come back. One thing that could certainly help is a return to the scoresheet by Patrick Kane, who may have been unable to register any points the last two games due to flu-like symptoms he has been battling all week. Prior to the last two games, Kane had 7 points in his previous three games.

Who's hot -- Columbus captain Rick Nash has 8 points in his last five games. ... Corey Crawford seems to have found his game again for Chicago. The rookie goalie has a 1.47 goals-against average in his last four starts.

Injury report -- Derick Brassard's injury, he suffered a broken hand after getting hit by a puck Wednesday, is expected to keep him sidelined for 2-3 weeks. The Jackets also placed forward Derek Dorsett on IR and recalled rookie defenseman John Moore. They may also be without R.J. Umberger, who left Wednesday's game early with a knee injury. … Fernando Pisani missed Chicago's win Wednesday with a head injury. The Hawks should be otherwise healthy, though Kane is still battling flu-like symptoms.

Stat pack -- One way Chicago can help its fortunes is by drawing more penalties. Columbus surrenders an average of 14.1 PIMs per game, and the Hawks' special teams have been in a particularly nice groove of late. Chicago already has the second-best power play in the League at 24.8 percent, but in the last four games the Blackhawks have scored six of 21 times with the extra man, a 28.6 percent success rate.

Puck drop -- Chicago performed well without Quenneville on Wednesday, but one solid performance isn't nearly enough in a conference where a good or bad week can move you in or out of the top eight. The Jackets' recent improvement is fueling hopes of a second postseason berth in three years. But winning at the United Center will require making some history -- Columbus has never won six consecutive road games in its 10-year history.

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