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Desperate Blues head to Chicago

by David Kalan
BLUES (24-22-9) at BLACKHAWKS (37-14-4)

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

Season Series: The Hawks have won both meetings with St. Louis this season, the last a 6-3 thumping at Scottrade Center on Jan. 2.

Big Story: Chicago is returning home to face the Blues after finishing a season-high eight-game road trip.

Team Scope:

Blues: The Blues' meeting with Chicago Wednesday will come one month after St. Louis replaced Andy Murray with current coach Davis Payne. Sunday night the Blues showed that wasn't the only gamble they're willing to take this season -- the team hosted its annual casino night, raising more than $70,000 for charity. St. Louis could probably use some of the luck that was doled out at the roulette wheel Sunday, as the team has only won two of its last six games. Some of the blame might fall on goaltender Chris Mason, who has won only five of his last 14 starts, but the offense, which has score more than two goals once in the last six games also bears its share of the burden.

Despite St. Louis' struggles of late, the Blues are still within reach of the West's top eight. The Blues do sit mired in 13th place, which means there are five teams to leapfrog if they're to get into the final playoff spot, but with 27 games to play, there is still time for the team to make a move up the standings. Center Andy McDonald's recent play could help jumpstart St. Louis. The veteran is currently riding a seven-game point streak.

Blackhawks: After nearly three weeks and 9,000 miles, the Indian Head is coming back to sweet home Chicago. As the club comes back from a season-high eight-game road trip, the Blackhawks will be playing their first home game since a 3-0 win over the Blue Jackets on Jan. 14. The Hawks should be quite comfortable in the friendly environs of the United Center -- Chicago is tied with Washington for the fewest home losses in the League -- and with 20 of the team's remaining 27 games being played within the division or the central time zone, the Hawks days of wearying travel in this regular season appear behind them.

The Hawks offense continues to chug along, bolstered by Jonathan Toews and Andrew Ladd, who have combined for 16 points in the last eight games. But question marks are starting to pop up in net, where No. 1 netminder Cristobal Huet has struggled of late. Chicago still went 5-3 on its big trek, but Huet was bailed out by the Hawks' scorers more than once. Huet, who has a 3.23 goals-against average in his last eight games, may need to use what's left of the regular season to find his game again if Chicago is to make a run at the ultimate prize come June.

Who's Hot: While St. Louis' David Backes has made headlines with his brawn since being named to the U.S. Olympic team on Jan. 1, he has also been a productive scorer, tallying 11 points in his last 13 games. In Chicago, Marian Hossa has been on a particularly strong stretch with 17 points in his last 15 games.

Injury Report: The Blues may be without D.J. King, who recently had right hand surgery, as well as Carlo Colaiacovo, Alex Steen and B.J. Crombeen, who all are listed as questionable with lower-body injuries. Chicago, meanwhile, may get a boost from the return of Dave Bolland, who may be activiated for Wednesday's game. He has been out since early November after back surgery.

Stat Pack: After one month at the helm, Payne may slowly, but surely be improving the Blues. Payne did steer St. Louis to a four-game winning streak in the middle of January, its longest of the year, but on the whole the Blues have improved their mark only marginally. The team is 7-5-3 since Payne took over, only slightly better than the 17-17-6 mark the Blues had under Murray.

Puck Drop: While Chicago is jockeying for position with San Jose atop the Western Conference, the Blues are badly in need of a win to jump back into the postseason mix. With this season being a disappointment thus far in St. Louis, the clock is ticking to salvage a campaign many in the Gateway City expected to go differently.
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