Blackhawks snow the Avalanche Friday; face the Blues tonight

It was Patrick Sharp's birthday on Friday, and he celebrated by notching a hat trick plus an assist in Chicago's 7-2 win over the Avalanche.

Coming off the league-wide three-day Christmas break, Colorado looked like a team that was still on vacation as they were constantly out-skated and out-played by the Blackhawks.

First-year Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said prior to the game that he expected the Blackhawks to win the division by a good margin. But Colorado had a strong start to the season and can still be expected to be in playoff position in the spring - so long as they don't play too many games as bad as last night's.

Jean-Sebastien Giguere remained in net for all seven of Chicago's goals. He was not replaced by Semyon Varlamov until the third period.

Chicago started their scoring 12:27 into the first with Sharp's first goal. Jonathan Toews got the first of his own two goals with less than two minutes left in the period. Toews has been collecting plenty of assists this season - he added two more on Friday - but has not been scoring as much. Sharp would get his second of the night with 42 seconds left in the first to give the Blackhawks a 3-0 lead.

It would take just 27 seconds into the second period for Sharp to complete his hat trick.

However, it was several minutes later that Sharp made what may have been one of his best plays of the season: after robbing the puck off Matt Duchene, he made a lengthy pass to Toews, who scored again to make it 5-0 for Chicago.

Colorado finally got on the board shortly after that, with a Paul Stastny goal making it 5-1.

It wouldn't take long for the Blackhawks to continue scoring, however, and both Michal Handzuš and Kris Versteeg added to Chicago's tally before the period was out. Versteeg has now had 6 goals and 9 assists in 21 games since being traded from Florida; he had just 2 goals and 5 assists for the Panthers in 18 games.

Gabriel Landeskog would score the only goal of the third period, to make the final score 7-2.

Three stars:
1) Patrick Sharp (3G, 1A) - CHI
2) Jonathan Toews (2G, 2A) - CHI
3) Duncan Keith (3A) - CHI

* * *

On Saturday night, the Blackhawks (27-7-6) will be at St. Louis for a Central Division showdown with the Blues (24-7-5). The Blues have 53 points in 36 games, which puts them second in the division behind Chicago (60 points/40 games).

The Blues are a sterling 10-0-1 against Central Division rivals thus far this season, including two wins against the Blackhawks so far. Their only division loss came in a shootout versus the Jets on October 18th.

Vladimir Sobotka returns to the Blues lineup tonight after spending time on the IR. Alexander Steen was placed on IR today with what the team said was a concussion. Steen has been among the top league scorers this season.

Antti Raanta (9-1-2, .915 sv%, 2.18 GAA) is expected to start for Chicago tonight. Although Corey Crawford traveled with the team to St. Louis, Jason LaBarbera will be backing up Raanta. He will be facing Jaroslav Halak (17-6-3, .909 sv%, 2.32 GAA) in net for St. Louis.

Injury report: Chicago - Corey Crawford (lower body), Nikolai Khabibulin (lower body); St. Louis - Alexander Steen (concussion), Jordan Leopold (hand), Ryan Reaves (broken hand), Roman Polak (lower body).


Game info: 7 p.m. CST, Scottrade Center, St. Louis

Where to watch: Chicago - WGN; St. Louis: Fox Sports Midwest; Chicago radio WGN 720 AM, St. Louis radio KMOX 1120


Follow us at @TCLBlackhawks; follow me at @HockeyBroad.