Corey Crawford and Artemi Panarin helped the battle-tested Chicago Blackhawks win a matchup against another of the NHL's top teams.
Crawford made 32 saves, Panarin had two goals and Chicago beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-1 on Friday night to reach the cusp of clinching the Central Division.
Panarin scored in the opening minute, then added an empty-netter with 44 seconds left for his 28th goal of the season. Marian Hossa also scored in the first period for Chicago, and Patrick Kane assisted on all three goals as Chicago extended its division lead to nine points over idle Minnesota.
The Wild have five games remaining and the Blackhawks have four.
Chicago, with 107 points, also leap-frogged over Columbus, with 106, and into second place overall in the league standings behind Washington in the Presidents' Trophy race.
"It was a good challenge against a team like that, one of the better teams in the league," Crawford said. "It was another solid game against a top team."
The Blackhawks and Crawford played a smart, tidy game to deny the Blue Jackets a chance to gain ground on Washington in the Metropolitan Division.
Kane, who reached 750 career points, likes the way his team is tooling up for the playoffs on the heels of an impressive 5-1 win at Pittsburgh on Wednesday.
"Another good team we were facing tonight from the East, so it's nice to have that measuring stick, see where you stand against that conference," Kane said.
The Blackhawks also reached 50 wins for just the second time in 90 seasons and have a shot at their team record for points (112) set in 2009-2010 when they went on to win their first of three Stanley Cups in six years.
Nick Foligno scored his 25th goal to end an eight-game drought and Sergei Bobrovksy made 21 saves, but the Blue Jackets lost for the second time in two nights. The Blue Jackets have just seven goals in their last five games.
"We didn't get the result, but as I told you before at this time of the year, I just want just to play the right way," coach John Tortorella said. "We played the right way tonight. I don't have any complaints about our hockey club."
Bobrovsky got his first regulation loss since Feb. 19 against Nashville. He had been 10-0-2 during the run and entered leading the NHL in wins, goals-against average and save percentage.
Coming off a 2-1 overtime loss at Carolina on Thursday night — with backup Joonas Korpisalo in net — the Blue Jackets didn't arrive at the their hotel in Chicago until about 1:30 p.m. on Friday.
The team left Raleigh-Durham International Airport on a chartered jet shortly after Thursday's game, but the plane was forced to turn back about 30 minutes into the flight because of a faulty generator. The Blue Jackets returned to the hotel they stayed at on Wednesday, then flew to Chicago on Friday.
Chicago took advantage by striking fast.
Panarin got a power-play goal 32 seconds in and four seconds after Columbus' Brandon Dubinsky was sent off for cross-checking Niklas Hjalmarsson.
After Jonathan Toews won a faceoff in the Blue Jackets' zone, Kane slipped the puck to Panarin in the slot.
The teams exchanged goals 22 seconds apart during a 4-on-4 late in the first period.
Foligno tied it 1-all with 2:45 left, and Hossa's 26th goal put Chicago back in front 2-1 moments later. The 38-year-old faked Bobrovsky to the ice, cut across the crease and scored on a slick backhander.
NOTES: Columbus C Lukas Sedlak left in the second period with an upper-body injury and didn't return. ... Blackhawks C Artem Anisimov missed his ninth game (lower body), but coach Joel Quenneville said he hoped the 22-goal scorer would return for the playoffs. ... C Vinnie Hinostroza, recalled from Rockford of the AHL on Thursday, was among Chicago's scratches. ... Tortorella said the team's flight turnaround was "very nerve-wracking," but otherwise joked about the incident before Friday's game and hoped it might rally his team. "When you hear the announcement: 'It's an emergency, but we're OK,' where do you go with that?" Tortorella said.
Blue Jackets: Host league-leading Washington on Sunday in a showdown of the top teams in the rugged Metropolitan.
Blackhawks: Host Boston on Sunday in their final regular-season home game. Chicago closes out the schedule with three road contests.