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‘Fragile’ Blackhawks look to rebound against Blue Jackets

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The Blackhawks need to get back to their scrappy, resilient identity if they hope to make the playoffs.

Chicago Blackhawks v Columbus Blue Jackets Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images

The Blackhawks and Blue Jackets meet at Nationwide Arena on Saturday night, both hoping to stop their slide down the playoff standings, as they each have only two wins in their last seven games. Now would be a great time for the Blackhawks to break their five-game losing streak on the road or they risk another team leapfrogging them in the standings.

Saturday’s match will be the seventh time the Blackhawks and Blue Jackets have faced off this season. Chicago has won four of the previous six against Columbus, with two of the games going to overtime or the shootout.

Despite likely being sellers at the trade deadline, the Blue Jackets are looking to get back to a “winning culture,” as coach John Tortorella stated after the Jackets 6-4 loss to Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday. The Blue Jackets didn’t go down without a fight — defensemen Zach Werenski and forward Max Domi each scored a goal in the third period — but the Jackets were doomed by a poor start in which the Lightning score three goals in the first six minutes. It was the Blue Jackets fourth loss in five games, and the goalies — which was such a strength to start the season — have a .870 save percentage in that span. Elvis Merzlikins will be the one in net on Saturday. While forward Jack Roslovic continues to impress with 27 points (8 G, 19 A) in 34 games since the Jan. 23 trade to the Blue Jackets, forward Patrik Laine has only one goal and two assists his last 15 games.

Columbus will be without top defensemen Zach Werenski, who is expected to undergo hernia surgery sometime next week and will miss the remainder of the 2021 season. They also will likely be missing defensemen David Savard, who was scratched against the Lightning Thursday presumably for injury protection in preparation for a trade.

The Blackhawks slipped further away from the playoffs after a 5-1 loss Thursday to the Dallas Stars. After a great first period, the Blackhawks seemed to fall apart as mistake after mistake ended up in the back of the net, and their poor special teams ultimately doomed them. Vinnie Hinostroza picked up his second point in as many games, and his line with Dominik Kubalik and Philipp Kurashev was the bright spot of the game. Defensemen Connor Murphy called the team “fragile” after the loss — which seems appropriate — and it was especially disappointing because the Blackhawks had beat the Stars two nights before, a game which had a hold-onto-your-butts final period but was otherwise a strong showing.

Although there are 15 games left in the season, the upcoming five-game road trip could greatly determine the Blackhawks’ playoff fate. The Blackhawks face the Blue Jackets Saturday and Monday, then have a two-game set against the Red Wings to end the week, and finally visit the Predators next Monday. The Predators — who the Blackhawks are currently chasing in the standings — have a tough five-game schedule in which they face Central Division leaders Tampa and Carolina twice each, so the Blackhawks have to make the most of beating the supposedly lower quality teams while they can. As Patrick Kane told his teammates recently, every game from now to the end of the season needs to be treated like it’s the playoffs. The Blackhawks have been called resilient for a majority of the season, so it’s time they show that down the stretch.

Forward Mattias Janmark will be scratched as an “organizational decision.” Recently acquired forward Brett Connolly and defensemen Riley Stillman met the Blackhawks in Columbus, but it’s unknown if either will play against the Blue Jackets. The Blackhawks also experimented with the special teams at practice on Friday, so there is some potential shake-up coming.

Tale of the tape

Blackhawks — Statistic — Blue Jackets

46.76% (28th) — Corsi For — 46.20% (30th)

45.86% (t-28th) — Expected goals for — 45.86 (t-28th)

2.73 (19th) — Goals per game — 2.48 (28th)

3.10 (21st) — Goals against per game — 3.19 (24th)

46.5% (27th-T) — Faceoffs — 46.5% (27th-T)

24.6% (6th) — Power play — 14.1% (29th)

73.0% (30th) — Penalty kill — 78.0% (21st)

Projected lineups (subject to change)

Blackhawks

DeBrincat — Dach — Kane

Kubalik — Kurashev — Hinostroza

Soderberg — Suter — Strome

Hagel — Kampf — Carpenter

Keith — Boqvist

Zadorov — Murphy

de Haan — Kalynuk

Lankinen

Subban

Blue Jackets

Laine — Texier — Bjorkstrand

Robinson — Domi — Foligno

Grigorenko — Roslovic — Atkinson

Matteau — Dalpe — Foudy

Gavrikov — Jones

Carlsson — Del Zotto

Lehtonen — Kukan

Merzlikins

Korpisalo

How to watch

When: 6 p.m.

Where: Nationwide Arena, Columbus

TV: NBC Sports Chicago, NHL Network

Live stream: NBC Sports app, NHL.TV