Chicago looks to sweep series vs. surging Blue Jackets to begin their road trip
As the NHL announced this morning that the NHL Board has approved realignment, tonight's game between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Columbus Blue Jackets will mark the last time the two teams face each other as division rivals.
Next season, the Blue Jackets, along with fellow Central division rival Detroit Red Wings, will move to the Eastern Conference. Under the new alignment, Columbus will join a division composed of mid-Atlantic teams, and the Red Wings will move to a division made up of a mix of eastern Candian teams, Buffalo, Boston, both Florida teams, and Detroit. Chicago's division will consist of the three remaining Central teams, plus Minnesota, Winnipeg, Colorado, and Dallas.
The Blackhawks would like to make this series a sweep. Their last matchup was a 4-3 win on United Center ice. Prior to that, Chicago won 1-0 at home in February, and at Columbus 3-2.
Columbus has proven a tough competitor this season, even if their record hasn't reflected it in the "W" column. They've taken 10 games to overtime, and half of those games were decided in a shootout.
The Blue Jackets are on the most surprising streak in the NHL to date: they've taken points in their past 8 games. Within the larger point streak was a 5-game winning streak. Columbus has climbed out of the league basement, sitting at 13th in the West and 23rd overall. Their surprising surge has even pushed them above Philadelphia, who has had rough season this year.
While they don't have the showy firepower or stars that other teams across the league do, the Blue Jackets may have finally found themselves a new starter in Sergei Bobrovsky, who is 8-6-4 with a .923 sv% and just 2.19 GAA for the season. Long-time CBJ goalie Steve Mason needed to prove himself this season; so far he is just 2-6-1 with .897 sv% and 3.08 GAA. Bobrovsky is expected to be in net for Columbus tonight.
Chicago is coming off a pair of losses to Colorado and Edmonton after their historic 24-game point streak. The Blackhawks have had three days off between games for rest, and are kicking off a 4-game road trip. Corey Crawford will be in goal for the Blackhawks, looking for a win to break the team's recent skid.
Forward Jimmy Hayes was called up from Chicago's AHL affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs, this week; Patrick Sharp remains sidelined with a sprained shoulder.
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Time: 6:00pm CST
Blackhawks record: 21-2-3 (45 pts/1st in West)
Blue Jackets record: 10-12-5 (25 pts/13th in West)
Location: Nationwide Arena, Columbus, OH
Where to watch: CSN Chicago, Fox Sports Ohio
Where to listen: CHI- WGN 720 (phone app available)
Injury report: Chicago: Patrick Sharp (sprained left shoulder); Columbus: Derek Dorsett (broken collarbone), Artem Anisimov (lower body).
Next 2 games for Chicago: Sat 3/16 7:00pm CT at Dallas; Mon 3/18 8:00pm CT at Colorado