Blackhawks-Blue Jackets Preview
The surging Blackhawks look to sweep the season series from the last-place Blue Jackets for the first time Tuesday night in Columbus.
Despite playing without captain and leading goal scorer Jonathan Toews (concussion), Chicago is 7-1-1 since Feb. 29. The Blackhawks (40-25-8), in sixth place in the Western Conference with 88 points, defeated Washington 5-2 on Sunday for their third straight victory.
"We're taking it one game at a time," defenseman Duncan Keith said. "We're trying to get better and trying to get points because nothing is set right now."
Rookie Andrew Shaw recorded his first two-goal game, while Viktor Stalberg, Patrick Kane and Bryan Bickell also scored for the Blackhawks, who have reached the four-goal mark four times in their last five games after doing it four times in their previous 21.
"It's fun to win," said Kane, who has six goals in his last 10 games after scoring twice in his previous 15. "I thought we had a pretty strong game from everyone. The best part about it is we're going to keep getting better, so it's definitely a step in the right direction."
Simply facing Columbus could be enough to help Chicago continue its winning ways.
The Blackhawks have outscored the Blue Jackets 26-9 in winning the first five meetings, with each game decided by at least three goals. Stalberg has been the surprising catalyst, scoring eight of his 18 goals against Columbus.
The Blackhawks are 11-2-1 when he scores.
In the last meeting in Columbus on Feb. 18, Blue Jackets center Derick Brassard opened the scoring 5:13 into the first period, but that was Columbus' lone highlight. Six Chicago players scored and Corey Crawford stopped 33 shots in a 6-1 victory to help the Blackhawks win their sixth straight in the series.
Crawford has recorded a 1.09 goals-against average in winning Chicago's last three games after going 0-2-0 with a 5.70 GAA in his previous three. His inconsistent play has prompted coach Joel Quenneville to give Ray Emery the nod five times in the last two weeks, but Crawford has been on top of his game against Columbus, posting a 1.76 GAA in four contests.
It isn't a huge surprise Crawford has had success against the Blue Jackets, considering their 166 goals are second-fewest in the league.
Columbus (23-42-7), owner of the NHL's worst record, has totaled seven goals in its last five games and Rick Nash has been at the forefront of those struggles.
The captain, who leads the team with 24 goals and 47 points, has gone seven consecutive games without a point. He has two assists against the Blackhawks this season and hasn't scored in the series since Feb. 14, 2010, a span of 13 games.
Columbus returns to Nationwide Arena to open a three-game homestand after snapping a four-game losing streak with Sunday's 2-1 shootout victory over Calgary.
"It's a nice win,'' Steve Mason said. "To get a win here and get rewarded on the last leg of this trip is nice.''
Mason stopped 28 of 29 shots after replacing Curtis Sanford with 5:23 left in the first period. Sanford suffered a quadriceps injury and had to be helped off the ice, meaning Mason will likely get the call Tuesday.
Mason is 5-1-0 with a 1.87 GAA and a shutout this month, but has a 5.41 GAA in his three starts against the Blackhawks this season.