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Penguins, Blackhawks seek stretch-run momentum

by Brian Hedger

BLACKHAWKS (42-18-15) at PENGUINS (47-22-5)


Last 10: Chicago 4-5-1; Pittsburgh 4-5-1

Season series: This is the second of two games this season between the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins, whose first game was March 1 at Soldier Field in the final installment of the 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series. The Blackhawks used impressive skill to win 5-1 despite heavy snow falling on the shores of Lake Michigan.

Big story: Neither team is charging toward the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a head of steam. The Penguins guaranteed their eighth straight appearance in the playoffs Friday by beating the Columbus Blue Jackets 2-1, but they had to snap a three-game losing streak to do it. The Blackhawks lost back-to-back games at the Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators to start their current three-game road trip.

Team Scope:

Blackhawks: Chicago was outscored by a combined 8-3 margin in the losses to the Senators and Bruins, who shut the Blackhawks out Thursday. The defending Stanley Cup champions are now 2-3-0 since forwards Patrick Kane (lower body) and Bryan Bickell (upper body) left the lineup with injuries sustained in a 4-0 victory against the St. Louis Blues on March 4 at United Center. The Blackhawks are also playing without defenseman Michal Rozsival (lower body).

Chicago has just seven games left in the regular season and the Blues have all but wrapped up the Central Division title. Second in the Central, and the home-ice advantage that comes with it in the Western Conference Quarterfinals, remains up for grabs between the Blackhawks and Colorado Avalanche.

"I think we've had very sporadic [urgency]," coach Joel Quenneville said. "We've had two good starts in a row, but too many gaps and too many glaring mistakes. Give the other [teams] credit, but at the same time consistency and playing well defensively gets your success in our League, and we're maybe looking for shortcuts."

Penguins: Pittsburgh is 7-7-2 since the break for the 2014 Sochi Olympics and hasn't won on home ice at Consol Energy Center in three straight games. The Penguins are down two centers because of injuries and their special teams are struggling.

Pittsburgh has scored one goal in its past 17 man-advantage opportunities and lost three of those four games. The penalty-kill units have allowed at least one goal in three straight games and in seven of the past 10. The good news is how they won Friday in Columbus, when goals by forwards Chris Kunitz and Beau Bennett midway through the third period broke a scoreless tie and provided just enough for the victory.

"It's great to come back in a game like this," said Bennett, who missed 50 games with a hand/wrist injury. "We were on a little slump there for three games in a row, and it's good to be out there with the guys again, get a win and share that feeling."

Who's hot: Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews has finished with at least one point in 10 of 15 games since the Olympic break (nine goals and four assists). … Penguins forward Kunitz has goals in back-to-back games.

Injury report: For the Blackhawks, Kane (lower body) is out until the playoffs, Rozsival (lower body) is still out and Bickell (upper body) is day-to-day. … The Penguins will not have center Marcel Goc (ankle) for the rest of the regular season and possibly some playoff games. Pittsburgh is also without forwards Evgeni Malkin (foot), Pascal Dupuis (knee surgery), Chris Conner (hand surgery) and Joe Vitale (upper body), and defensemen Kris Letang (stroke) and Paul Martin (hand fracture). Goalie Tomas Vokoun (blood clot) is also sidelined.

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