Hawks' playoff chase continues at St. Louis
BLACKHAWKS (30-23-6) at BLUES (27-21-9)
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: Chicago 4-4-2; St. Louis 5-3-2.
: The division rivals have split four games this season, with St. Louis taking the last meeting 3-1 on Dec. 28, 2010 at Scottrade Center.
: Chicago is coming off a big win as it desperately tries to scrape its way back into the West's playoff field, but they'll be facing a re-made Blues team with its own run at the postseason in mind, as well as a three-game winning streak.
: Like so many teams in the West, Chicago is stuck in the mass that waits on both sides of the postseason dividing line. The Hawks, currently, are two points behind a four-team logjam between the 7th and 10th spots in the conference standings, but after a big shootout win Sunday Chicago could be building momentum at a time it sorely needs it. Sunday's victory over the Penguins, a meeting of the last two Stanley Cup champs, was just the Hawks' third win in the last eight games, a track record of inconsistency that has made a very real possibility of the prospect of Chicago not getting the opportunity to defend its title.
Heading to the Gateway city may not be the best place for the Hawks to start stringing together some wins -- Chicago has lost three straight at Scottrade Center. As well, with the Blackhawks playing the second half of a back-to-back, Marty Turco
may get the start. Turco, who let a three-goal lead slip away against Dallas his last time out, has given up at least three goals in each of his last four starts. No. 1 goalie Corey Crawford
, by contrast, has given up more than two goals just once in his last six outings.
: While Chicago is stuck in the cluster of teams searching for that final playoff spot, St. Louis is right on its tail. The Blues are just two points behind the Hawks and they just might be rejuvenated after making a bold move this weekend to bolster their roster for this season and the future. St. Louis shipped former No. 1 overall pick Erik Johnson and Jay McClement to Colorado for power forward Chris Stewart and rookie defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk early Saturday morning, and both responded by combining for two goals and an assist Saturday night against Anaheim.
The rest of the team may also have responded in what was a 9-3 romp over the Ducks, the Blues' third win in a row. A number of St. Louis regulars have also gotten into a groove, as T.J. Oshie has five points in the last two games and Patrik Berglund has landed on the scoresheet five straight games. The Blues still have plenty of work to do to make a run at the final spot, but a crippling win against the rival Hawks could get them well on their way.
: Andy McDonald has lit up the scoreboard lately, tallying four goals and five assists in the last six games for St. Louis. ... Patrick Sharp
has been one of the few Blackhawks to produce consistently lately, putting up four points in the last two games.
: Chicago should have a full lineup with the exception of Fernando Pisani
, who is out with a concussion. As well, coach Joel Quenneville, who was released from the hospital Saturday after suffering from internal bleeding due to an ulcer, is likely to miss his fourth game in a row. The Blues will be without goalie Jaroslav Halak, who was put on injured reserve last week with an injury to his right hand.
: St. Louis is no doubt hoping its nine-goal outburst Saturday is a sign of just how productive its new-look roster can be, but it's entirely possible that the Blues' offense has been improving over the last two months as well. Since New Year's, the Blues are averaging 3.05 goals per game. Prior to Jan. 1, St. Louis was only lighting the lamp an average of 2.59 times each night.
: With roughly six weeks to go in the 2010-11 NHL season there isn't a single game that doesn't have an impact on the final standings, but in Chicago's case, while the two points are crucial, the most important thing might just be learning to win consistently again. The Hawks haven't strung together consecutive victories in nearly a month.