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Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Chicago Blackhawks @NHLdotcom
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GAME: Columbus Blue Jackets (17-34-8-4) at Chicago Blackhawks (18-32-7-5).

TIME: Friday, 8:30 p.m. EST.

It may have taken longer than expected, but highly touted rookie Tuomo Ruutu is helping lead the Chicago Blackhawks back to respectability.

Ruutu looks to build on the best game of his NHL career and help the Blackhawks complete a home-and-home sweep of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Ruutu entered this season as one of the leading contenders for the Calder Trophy, but a slow start and his team's poor play led to him scoring just two goals in his first 36 games. The 21-year-old Finn has played much better lately, with six goals and four assists in his last 10 games.

He matched career highs with two goals and three points Wednesday, and Kyle Calder had a goal and two assists as Chicago won 4-3 at Columbus.

"I'm improving. I'm much more confident with the puck," Ruutu said. "Now I'm holding the puck, I'm not just trying to throw it into space."

Ruutu's improved play has helped the Blackhawks win five of their last eight games and move two points ahead of the last-place Blue Jackets in the Central Division.

The Blackhawks have gotten long looks at young goalies Michael Leighton and Craig Anderson this season, and Adam Munro could be next. Munro, Chicago's first-round pick in the 2001 draft, was recalled from Norfolk of the AHL on Thursday.

Star forward Rick Nash had a career-high three assists Wednesday for the Blue Jackets, losers of five straight - the last four by one goal.

Columbus had a six-game losing streak from Dec. 12-23, but two of those defeats came in overtime.

The Blue Jackets are 0-8-3 on the road since a 3-2 victory at San Jose on Jan. 8. Their last visit to the United Center resulted in a 7-0 loss on Jan. 22.

STANDINGS (through Feb. 25): Blue Jackets - 46 points, 5th place, 35 PB, Central Division. Blackhawks - 48 points, 4th place, 33 PB, Central Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Blue Jackets - Nash, 33 goals and 47 points; David Vyborny, 23 assists; Jody Shelley, 171 PIM. Blackhawks - Mark Bell and Calder, 18 goals; Bell and Tyler Arnason, 22 assists; Bell, 40 points; Scott Nichol, 108 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through Feb. 25): Blue Jackets - Power play: 13.8 percent (43 for 312), 27th in NHL. Penalty killing: 83.1 percent (207 for 249), 21st. Blackhawks - Power play: 12.5 percent (34 for 273), 28th. Penalty killing: 85.6 percent (243 for 284), 5th.

GOALTENDERS: Blue Jackets - Marc Denis (15-27-7, 3 SO, 2.53 GAA); Fred Brathwaite (2-9-1, 3.41). Blackhawks - Leighton (5-14-5, 2, 2.93); Munro (no appearances).


LAST MEETING: Feb. 25; Blackhawks, 4-3. At Columbus, Ohio, defenseman Stephane Robidas had a goal and an assist for Chicago.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Blue Jackets - 3-21-4-2 on the road; Blackhawks - 12-9-4-4 at home.

Associated Press
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