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Hawks have hands full with League-leading Blues

by Brian Hedger
BLUES (45-18-7) at BLACKHAWKS (37-25-8)


Last 10:
St. Louis 9-1-0; Chicago 5-4-1

Season series:
This is the fifth of six games between the Central Division rivals and they've split the first four with two wins apiece. The remaining two games will take place at Chicago's United Center, where the Blackhawks beat the Blues 3-1 on Feb. 19 in the lone game played in the Windy City thus far. That game was also the last one in which injured Chicago captain Jonathan Toews played before leaving the lineup with what's believed to be a concussion.

Big story:
After the Blues pounded the Hawks both physically and 5-1 on the scoreboard in the last meeting on March 6 in St. Louis, there are people who wonder if Chicago's more skill-oriented finesse style is a bad matchup for the hard-hitting defensive nature of the blue notes. The Hawks bristle at the notion, citing their success against the Blues in recent seasons and the two wins this year. The Blues have outhit the Hawks in three of the four previous games for a total count of 89-67, but the last meeting was by far the largest differential in hits -- St. Louis outhitting Chicago by a 27-11 count.

Regardless of physicality in this series, the Blues are red hot. They've won five straight games and eight of their past nine, with goalie Jaroslav Halak posting a career high eight straight wins. Chicago, meanwhile, is just trying to keep its head above water without Toews, who targeted this game for a return, though he didn't skate Monday and is considered unlikely to play, according to coach Joel Quenneville.

Team Scope:

Halak came up huge once again on Sunday night in Columbus to make several highlight-reel saves among his 33 stops to steal a win and complete a sweep of the home-and-home weekend series against the Blue Jackets. David Perron and Patrik Berglund scored for the Blues, who gave upstart Columbus a harsh lesson in reality after the Jackets had won a season-high four straight games coming into the weekend. Leading the way was continued great goaltending from both Brian Elliott and Halak, who was really impressive on Sunday night to give the Blues a little cushion atop both the League and Western Conference standings with 97 points.

"The way Jaro's playing games right now, he's capable of stealing games like that," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said after Sunday's win. "There's no doubt about it that we did not play our best. He rose to the occasion and helped us out."

After rebounding from its loss in St. Louis last week with a thrilling come-from-behind victory against the New York Rangers on Friday night, Chicago dropped a tight-checking defensive battle on Sunday against the Los Angeles Kings in a six-round shootout. The Hawks had a number of opportunities to take a lead in the third period, but hit a couple posts and missed wide open portions of the net. Viktor Stalberg also couldn't convert on a penalty shot in the third and was one of six Hawks shooters who came up empty in the shootout against Jonathan Quick. Now the Blues come to town with their hard-hitting physical style and great goaltending. Can the Hawks match the physicality?

"Yeah, I think so," forward Patrick Sharp said. "I know we lost against last game against them in their building, but we've beaten them in the past and we've beaten them in our building. They're a great team, but we've been tested on the physical aspect of the game before and I think we're just fine."

Who's hot: During Halak's eight-game win streak in net for the Blues, he's posted a 1.45 goals-against average and .945 save percentage. … Chicago's Patrick Kane has scored goals in five of the past seven games.

Injury report:
Kris Russell (concussion symptoms), Matt D'Agostini (concussion) and Alexander Steen (concussion symptoms) are all on injured reserve, while Kent Huskins is listed as day-to-day with a bruised hand for the Blues. … The Hawks didn't practice on Monday and no update about Toews' status will be known until after Chicago's morning skate, while defenseman Steve Montador will miss the game with what's also believed to be concussion symptoms.

Stat pack:
Prior to going 0-for-4 on the power play against Columbus on Sunday, the Blues had scored a goal on the man-advantage for three straight games. Meanwhile, the St. Louis penalty killers have thwarted 47 straight power plays, including all eight on Sunday in Columbus. … Chicago hasn't scored on the power play in three straight games and is 0-for-8 during that stretch.

Puck drop:
Both the Blues and Blackhawks made news with transactions on Monday. Chicago announced that it had reached terms on a two-year contract extension with veteran forward Daniel Carcillo, who's out for the rest of this season after knee surgery. St. Louis inked rookie left wing Jaden Schwartz to an entry-level contract after his sophomore season at Colorado College came to an end recently. The 19-year old Schwartz was the Blues' top pick in the 2010 NHL Draft (No. 14) and will be immediately available on St. Louis' NHL roster.

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