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After 643 games and more than 8 1/2 years, the Columbus Blue Jackets are on the cusp of a franchise first.
Needing one point to clinch its first trip to the postseason, Columbus on Wednesday night will face the Chicago Blackhawks, who can clinch home-ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs with a victory.
The Blue Jackets, who entered the league as an expansion team in 2000, are the only current NHL club that has yet to play beyond the regular season. Prior to 2008-09, Columbus had never tallied more than 80 points or finished higher than third in its division.
They're still in line to end up in the middle of the pack in the Central Division, but the Blue Jackets continued their postseason push Sunday when they gained a valuable point with a 1-0 overtime loss at home to the Blackhawks.
Though it comes into Chicago having lost two straight after regulation, Columbus (40-29-10) is sixth in the Western Conference and owns a two-point lead over Anaheim and St. Louis.
"This is what it takes for non-established teams to establish a territory in the league. This is what is takes to get in (to the playoffs)," said Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock, a Stanley Cup winner with Dallas a decade ago. "There is a hell of a price to pay to get in. We're trying to teach guys how high the price is and we're getting a lot on the job training right now."
Columbus had 20 shots on goal against the Blackhawks, but Nikolai Khabibulin - a Cup winner with Tampa Bay in 2004 - posted his 40th career shutout.
Steve Mason, meanwhile, permitted fellow rookie Kris Versteeg's goal with 1:50 to play in the extra session as the Blackhawks took another step toward locking down the No. 4 seed and a matchup against either Vancouver or Calgary in the opening round of the postseason.
"That's a playoff-type game," said Versteeg, second among rookies with 51 points. "The game was played very simply. Both teams really came out there and wanted that point."
Mason, a likely finalist for the Calder Trophy, is 1-1-1 with a 1.95 goals-against average against the Blackhawks in 2008-09. His only regulation loss to them was a 3-1 defeat in Chicago on Dec. 14
The Blackhawks (44-24-11) return to the United Center after helping out Columbus. They damaged Nashville's playoff hopes with a 4-2 victory on Tuesday.
"I still think we have the motivation of knowing that we haven't accomplished our goals yet and I think that's pushing us," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "It was a huge two points for us."
Khabibulin made 22 saves to improve to 4-0-0 with a 0.98 GAA this month. The league's reigning second star of the week, however, is 2-4-1 with a 3.69 GAA in seven home starts against the Blue Jackets since joining the Blackhawks in 2005.
Chicago needs one point to reach 100 for the first time in 16 years.