Blue Jackets-Blackhawks Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated December 24, 2011
The Chicago Blackhawks return from the holiday break atop the Western Conference. The Columbus Blue Jackets are in the NHL cellar. Chicago tries to extend its season-best home winning streak to five and hand the Blue Jackets a fifth consecutive defeat Monday night. After having a five-game win streak snapped with a 3-2 loss at Pittsburgh the previous night, the Blackhawks (22-9-4) entered their extended break with a conference-best 48 points following Wednesday's 5-1 victory over Montreal. Chicago improved to 8-1-1 in December as Corey Crawford made 20 saves after backing up Ray Emery for six games. "It felt great," said Crawford, who had gone 3-3-0 with a 3.93 goals-against average in his previous eight games. "I was pretty hungry to get back in there. It was a huge game before the (Christmas) break to pick up points." The Blue Jackets (9-21-4) thought they were going to head into the break on a positive note, but they lost 6-5 at Nashville on Thursday after giving up the game's last four goals - two in the final 3:46. Columbus, which has a league-low 22 points, has been outscored 46-23 in the third period this season. "We play a great first two periods for so many games, and in the third periods, we just collapse or whatever it is," said rookie center Ryan Johansen, who scored twice on the power play to snap a 16-game goal drought. "We practice all week working on our third periods and things we should do a little smarter, and to get a loss again in the third period like that is mentally tough." The bright spot Thursday was Jeff Carter recording the fastest hat trick in franchise history, in a 3:18 span of the first period. Seven of his 10 goals have come in the last seven games. He will face the Blackhawks for the first time in a Blue Jackets sweater after missing both meetings this season with a broken foot. Columbus has been routed in both games, losing by a combined 11-5 score. The Jackets went 0 for 5 on the power play in a 5-2 loss at Chicago on Oct. 29, but they make their second visit to the United Center after setting a club record with four road power-play goals Thursday. Columbus is 6 for 14 with the man advantage in its last three games. The Blackhawks, though, have outscored opponents 16-6 during a four-game home winning streak, their longest since a six-game run Feb. 20-March 23. If Crawford gets the nod again from coach Joel Quenneville, he'll try to beat the Blue Jackets for the third straight time after stopping 27 shots in a 6-3 victory Nov. 10. Emery made the same number of saves the last time Columbus was in town. Chicago's Patrick Kane, who has a team-best 25 assists, has more points against the Blue Jackets (29) than any other team. He has four goals and four assists in the last five meetings. Marian Hossa has four goals and eight assists during a seven-game point streak, and Jonathan Toews has been hot as well with 10 goals and eight assists in his past 13 games.
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