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Hawks try to stay hot as Blues come to town

by John Kreiser

BLUES (39-31-9) at BLACKHAWKS (50-22-7)

Last 10
-- St. Louis 7-3-0; Chicago 6-3-1

Season series -- It's the last of six meetings between the Central Division rivals, with the Hawks leading the series 3-2-0. The teams have split their two meetings in Chicago, with the Blues winning the last one 3-2 on Feb. 3.

Big story -- The Hawks already own their first Central Division title since 1993. Their next objective is first place in the Western Conference, which would give them the home-ice advantage for the first three rounds of the playoffs. They can get it by winning out in their last three games -- they trail San Jose by two points but have a game in hand and would win the tiebreakers. The Blues' late-season heroics officially came up short when Colorado won 4-3 at Vancouver on Tuesday, assuring the Avs of the last playoff berth in the West.

Team Scope:

-- Just as they did last season, the Blues have been rising a late surge. This time, though, it won't produce a playoff berth. St. Louis won for the fifth time in six games with a 2-1 overtime victory over Columbus on Monday. Erik Johnson's power-play goal with 61 seconds left in the extra session kept the Blues' slim hopes alive for another day.

Andy McDonald had a goal and assist, and Chris Mason made 27 saves to leave him one win short of 30.

Blackhawks -- The Hawks reached another milestone on Tuesday night by pummeling the Stars in Dallas for their 50th victory, a franchise first. They've won four in a row overall and 22 games this season on the road, another franchise record.

Their goal now: Get the top spot in the West -- and the home-ice benefits that go with it.

"Our objective is to finish first," coach Joel Quenneville said.

Who's hot -- Chicago rookie Antti Niemi appears to be Quenneville's playoff goaltender. He's won all four games during the Hawks' winning streak while posting a 1.07 goals-against average. Patrick Kane scored in the win over Dallas and has a career-best 30 goals.

Injury report -- Blues defenseman Barret Jackman is day-to-day with an upper-body injury. Center Patrik Berglund suffered an upper body injury in the second period on Monday, while Keith Tkachuk also left the game before the third period started due to a lower body injury. … Chicago is still without defensemen Kim Johnsson (concussion) and Brian Campbell (broken collarbone).

Stat pack -- The Hawks had 49 wins in 1970-71, when they set the team record of 107 points that they matched in '71-72 and again this season. They also won 49 times in 1992-93. … Blues goaltender Chris Mason is 2-1-0 against the Hawks this season with a 2.01 GAA. … Chicago forward Patrick Sharp has four goals against the Blues this season, all in St. Louis.

Puck drop -- The Hawks have something to play for, the Blues don't. Interim coach David Payne will be tested this week in trying to get his team to play hard with nothing at stake -- especially with Chicago eager for every point.

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