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Blackhawks vs. Blues game preview 2016: One last time before the real thing

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The big games are h- wait this is still the regular season??

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Ah yes, the Blackhawks against the Blues. There's a very good chance we're going to see this matchup a lot more before the end of this month as Chicago and St. Louis seem likely to meet in the opening round of the playoffs. Before that, they face off Thursday night in the Hawks' penultimate game of the regular season.

The fact that Chicago is getting ready for the playoffs will not be lost on those who look at the lineup. The team is holding out several players against St. Louis in order to make sure they're ready for the postseason. Corey Crawford, Andrew Shaw, Marian Hossa and Artem Anisimov will be out Thursday and several them could also miss the season finale Saturday against the Blue Jackets.

That'll be fine as long as everyone is back for Game 1.

The big implications for Thursday involve home ice advantage. The Hawks remain four points behind the Blues for second place in the Central Division, but could steal the spot with two wins and two St. Louis losses to end the season. It's not likely, but the possibility will at least remain if Chicago can come out victorious tonight. Given that Duncan Keith will be out for Game 1, having that game at the United Center would probably be welcomed.

Oh, and one more notable thing? Bryan bleepin' Bickell is back in the lineup. Let's hope he gives us some flashbacks to 2014.

Projected lines:

Ladd-Toews-Panik
Panarin-Teravainen-Kane
Bickell-Desjardins-Weise
Mashinter-Kruger-Fleischmann

TVR-Hjalmarsson
Svedberg-Seabrook
Gustafsson-Rozsival

Opponent Breakdown

Blues | Record: 48-23-9 | 105 points | Tied for 1st in Central Division

I know the Blues. You know the Blues. The Blackhawks know the Blues. St. Louis has been one of Chicago's most consistent rivals over the past few years, regularly battling the team at the top of the division standings. The playoffs have been a different story, however, and that's where this team will try to begin re-writing its story this month.

There's no doubting the Blues are good. The team is fourth in goal prevention, fifth in power play efficiency and third on the penalty kill. They beat up opponents on special teams and are seventh in 5-on-5 Corsi at 52 percent. The Hawks, meanwhile, are 15th at 50.8 percent.

But St. Louis, like Chicago, is a team that will ultimately be judged by its playoff performance. While tonight's game will be an interesting barometer, even with many players out, these two teams are waiting for the real games to begin.

Projected lines:

Steen-Lehtera-Tarasenko
Paajarvi-Stastny-Brouwer
Schwartz-Berglund-Jaskin
Upshall-Brodziak-Reaves

Edmundson-Pietrangelo
Shattenkirk-Parayko
Gunnarson-Bortuzzo

Injuries

Blackhawks: Corey Crawford, Andrew Shaw, Marian Hossa, Artem Anisimov, Duncan Keith (suspension)

Blues: David Backes, Jake Allen, Jay Bouwmeester, Robby Fabbri, Steve Ott

How to watch

When: 7:30 p.m. CT

Where: United Center, Chicago

TV: CSN Chicago