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Hawks gunning for fourth straight win against Jackets

by Brian Hedger
BLACKHAWKS (40-25-8) at BLUE JACKETS (23-42-7)

: CSN-CH (HD), FS-O (HD)

Last 10: Chicago 7-2-1; Columbus 5-5-1.

Season Series: The Blackhawks have taken the first five games of the six-game season series against this Central Division opponent by a combined score of 26-9 and haven't scored less than four goals in any of them. Chicago is going for the sweep, after last beating the Jackets 6-1 on Feb. 18 at Nationwide Arena. In that game, Blackhawks forward Viktor Stalberg picked up his eighth goal and third game-winner against Columbus this season.

Big Story: Since going winless in nine straight games to nosedive into sixth place of the Western Conference standings, the Blackhawks have gone 11-4-1. After beating the Washington Capitals 5-2 at home on Sunday night, they're now within striking distance of Central Division rivals Detroit and Nashville in the fourth and fifth spots with just nine games left. Even more impressive is the fact they've gone 8-4-1 in 13 straight games played without their captain, Jonathan Toews, who continues to recover from an upper-body injury that's believed to be a concussion. Columbus halted a four-game losing streak on the road Sunday in Calgary by downing the Flames in a shootout, as the Jackets strive to leave a good taste on this otherwise brutal season down the stretch.

Team Scope:

Blackhawks: Coach Joel Quenneville has gotten his wish of a fast start the past two games and it's paid off both times with convincing victories. The most recent came on Sunday at United Center against the Washington Capitals, when the Hawks got two first-period goals from Andrew Shaw and Stalberg and it sparked a 5-2 win. Corey Crawford, who was named the NHL's Second Star of the Week on Monday, picked up his third straight win in as many appearances and will likely get the nod in Columbus -- a team he's already 4-0 against this season. Chicago's stars are really clicking, even without Toews, but the Hawks' main checking line centered by Dave Bolland has re-ignited its engines at both ends of the rink. Bryan Bickell and Shaw, the wings of that unit, both had three-point games against the Capitals -- including two goals by Shaw.

"They did a great job," Quenneville said. "Scoring early again was big for us, as well. It's a pretty big assignment. (Alex Ovechkin's) been playing well and their team has been dangerous lately, and I thought that line was very good. When that line's out there against (top) teams, if they can spend some offensive zone time in spurts, then sometimes it's easy to cash in against top guys."

Blue Jackets: Cam Atkinson's wrist shot beat Miikka Kiprusoff to end the shootout and beat the Calgary Flames on Sunday at Scotiabank Saddledome to give Columbus its first win in five games to end their four-game skid. Prior to the losing streak, the Jackets had won four straight and were playing some of their best hockey of the season. Steve Mason saved 28 of 29 shots to pick up the win and didn't allow a goal in the shootout after relieving injured starter Curtis Sanford midway through the first period.

"You never hope for it," Mason said. "You never hope to see your partner go down, but that's the role the back-up goaltender for that night is to be ready. No matter how focused you are, it's always tough when you're sitting there and getting tight in the cold arena."

Who's Hot: Kane remains red hot for the Hawks after potting his 19th goal of the season on Sunday night, which was his sixth marker and 10th point in the last 10 games. Stalberg has two goals in a three-game point streak for Chicago; Mark Letestu has 3 goals and 3 assists in the past seven games for Columbus.

Injury Report: Toews (upper body) and Steve Montador (upper body) are day-to-day, while Daniel Carcillo (lower body) is out for the season and Sami Lepisto (lower body) is out indefinitely for Chicago; Radek Martinek (post-concussion symptoms) and Marc Methot (jaw) are out for the rest of the regular season, Fedor Tyutin (hand) and Kristian Huselius (lower body) are out indefinitely while Derek MacKenzie (upper body) has been termed "week-to-week" for Columbus.
Stat Pack: Chicago's struggling power play has scored just once in its last 19 opportunities over the past six games; Columbus is just 8-20-4 in games tied after the first period and 4-9-3 in games tied after two periods.

Puck Drop: Stalberg has scored the game-winning goal for Chicago in each of the last four games against the Jackets.
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