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HOCKEY

Blues, Blackhawks clash in Chicago

The Chicago Blackhawks seem to have a comfortable grasp on leading St. Louis Blues this evening would certainly give the club a little more confidence.

The Blackhawks try to strengthen their hold on a postseason position on Tuesday with a sixth straight home victory over the Blues.

Though Chicago has lost two of its past three games, picking up a point in Sunday's shootout setback to Los Angeles did give the club a 4-1-1 mark over its past six games and 82 points on the season. That is seven behind Nashville for the fifth spot in the West and three up on seventh-place Phoenix.

The Blackhawks are trying to stay in the hunt without captain Jonathan Toews, who leads the club with 29 goals but has missed the past 10 contests with an upper-body injury believed to be a concussion. The forward has resumed skating with the club, but no return date has been set.

Chicago could have used its leading goal-scorer on Sunday as it dropped a 3-2 decision to the visiting Kings. The Blackhawks got a goal from Marcus Kruger and a game-tying tally by Patrick Kane 7:36 into the third period, but Chicago came up empty on all six of its chances in the shootout.

Ray Emery, meanwhile, stopped five of the six skaters he faced in the tiebreaker after posting 27 saves through regulation. However, Chicago's offense was frustrated all night by the Kings' Jonathan Quick, whose big game also included a stop of Viktor Stalberg on a penalty shot in the third.

"He was quick. He moves well from side-to-side," said Chicago's Patrick Sharp of the Kings netminder. "You really have to out-work him to put it in the net."

Though the Blackhawks and Blues have split four of their six meetings so far this season, Chicago came up with a 3-1 victory in the lone encounter in the Windy City on Feb. 19. It was the Blackhawks' fifth straight home win over their Central Division rivals as the Blues haven't won in Chicago since Feb. 3, 2010.

St. Louis looks to snap that skid tonight and continue its charge towards the playoffs. The Blues have won a season-high five straight and lead the division by six over the Red Wings with 97 points. That is also five up on Vancouver for the most in the West and four ahead of the Rangers for the overall NHL lead.

The Blues picked up their ninth victory in 10 games on Sunday, sweeping a home-and-home set with the Blue Jackets by notching a 2-1 victory in Columbus. St. Louis had posted a 4-1 win at home the previous night and wrapped a span of five games in nine nights.

With little energy, Jaroslav Halak made 33 saves to bail his club out. He helped keep the Blue Jackets off the board on eight power-play chances and extended his career-high personal winning streak to eight straight games.

"The goalie was our best player," Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We hit the wall mentally and physically, and our goalie stole the game."

Halak, named the NHL's Third Star of the week on Monday, hasn't allowed more than two goals in a game since his last loss on Feb. 14 and his 1.84 goals- against average ranks second in the league, behind only teammate Brian Elliott's 1.64 GAA.

Patrik Berglund and David Perron both scored in Sunday's win for the Blues, who are on their longest winning streak since rattling off seven victories in a row from Oct. 22-Nov. 7 of last season.

St. Louis picked up a victory in the opener of a seven-game road trip and is now 16-14-3 on the road this season. The Blues are also an outstanding 29-4-4 as the host.

Hitchcock will have the option of injecting some youth into his lineup tonight after the Blues signed 19-year-old center Jaden Schwartz to an entry-level contract on Monday. The 14th overall pick of the 2010 draft had racked up 41 points in 30 games during his sophomore season at Colorado College and is expected to join the Blues tonight.