Inconsistent scoring has prevented the Chicago Blackhawks from padding their lead for second place in the Central Division and home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
After getting shut out for the second time in three games, the Blackhawks will try to clinch a sixth consecutive playoff berth by taking advantage of the laboring Ottawa Senators’ recent defensive struggles.
Chicago (42-17-15) has scored a league-best 239 goals but has registered two or fewer in 10 of its last 16 contests. The Blackhawks have also scored four or more in five of the other six games.
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They had one of those high-scoring performances in a 4-2 home win over Dallas on Tuesday but couldn’t get on the scoreboard in Boston two nights later. Chicago outshot the Bruins 28-23 in that 3-0 defeat and fell to 1-4-1 in its last six road games.
Colorado pulled within one point of the Blackhawks thanks to a 3-2 overtime win over Vancouver on Friday. The Avalanche have played one fewer game than Chicago.
"It’s tough to lose any games at this time of the season," forward Kris Versteeg said. "Colorado has been playing well as of late. We just have to keep finding ways to get four points to finish up this road trip."
The Blackhawks will try to regain a three-point lead over idle Colorado by sending the Senators (29-29-14) to a 12th loss in 15 games. Chicago will also try to secure another spot in the postseason by getting at least one point or having Nashville beat Dallas on Friday.
Ottawa has allowed 4.14 goals per contest during its 3-8-3 stretch but might have No. 1 goaltender Craig Anderson back in net Friday.
The former Blackhawks netminder hasn’t played since March 10 because of an upper-body injury, and Robin Lehner is 1-4-2 with a 3.77 goals-against average in his last seven starts. Anderson wasn’t faring too much better before his injury with a 3-4-1 record and a 3.42 GAA in his past nine games.
Anderson registered his season high for goals allowed in a 6-5 defeat in Chicago on Oct. 29. Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews scored two of his three goals in the third period and Andrew Shaw had his second of the game in that frame.
Chicago has won eight of 10 over Ottawa and three in a row.
The Senators announced Thursday that Bobby Ryan, who has a team-high 23 goals, will have to sit out the rest of the season after undergoing sports hernia surgery.
Ottawa split shootout results in its first two games without him, winning 4-3 at Tampa Bay on Monday and falling 3-2 at Florida the next night. The Senators scored twice in the second period Tuesday but allowed the Panthers to find the net twice in the final 2 1/2 minutes of that frame.
Lehner failed to stop both Florida shooters in the extra session, and his club is eight points off the playoff cutoff with 10 games remaining.
Ottawa is starting a five-game homestand but is 0-4-1 in its last five there. It hasn’t lost six straight at home since a 10-game skid in 2010-11.
"It’s time to make hay," coach Paul MacLean said.
Senators leading scorer Erik Karlsson is riding an eight-game point streak and has three assists in four career games against the Blackhawks. Milan Michalek has four goals and two assists during a five-game point streak versus Chicago.
Patrick Sharp, who leads the Blackhawks with 30 goals but has just one score in his last 12 games, has two goals and six assists in his last six against Ottawa.