Blues visit Blackhawks for key Central clash

( - A key battle in the Central Division title race is on tap in the Windy City on Sunday when the Chicago Blackhawks host the St. Louis Blues from United Center.

Nashville leads the Central Division with 104 points, but the Blues and Blackhawks are just one and two points behind the Predators, respectively. Nashville has three games remaining in the regular season, while Chicago and St. Louis each have four left, including two against each other.

All three teams already have clinched a playoff spot.

If Chicago and St. Louis finish in the second and third spots in the division, the clubs will face each other in the opening round of the playoffs for a second straight season. The Blackhawks lost the first two games in last spring's postseason battle before taking four straight to win the series in six.

The Blues won the opener of the 2014-15 season series, but Chicago has claimed the last two encounters. The Blackhawks have won four of the past five regular-season matchups overall and St. Louis has lost three in a row in the Windy City.

Tonight's game kicks off a two-game homestand for Chicago, which will host Minnesota on Tuesday before visiting the Blues for the finale of the season series on Thursday. The Blackhawks will close their regular season Saturday in Colorado.

The Blackhawks enter Sunday on a four-game winning streak. Another victory tonight would give Chicago its second-longest run of the season behind an eight-game tear from Nov. 26-Dec. 11.

Chicago escaped Buffalo with a 4-3 win on Friday thanks to a pair of late goals from captain Jonathan Toews.

The Sabres had rallied from an early 2-0 deficit to grab the lead in the third period, but Toews scored twice in a span of 47 seconds late in regulation to deliver the close win for the Blackhawks.

Buffalo grabbed a 3-2 edge with 7:18 left in the third, but Toews evened things with 1:43 remaining and then posted the game-winner with 56 seconds left.

"Obviously we're not happy that we let them control the game (starting) about halfway through, but we took over late in the game and we created more chances," said Toews.

Duncan Keith and Patrick Sharp also scored and Scott Darling made 35 saves for the Blackhawks.

Corey Crawford is expected to start tonight in net. He is 12-2-3 with a 2.25 goals against average in 17 regular-season games against St. Louis.

After winning only once in their final six games of March, the Blues have begun the new month with consecutive victories. St. Louis posted a 4-1 win Thursday against visiting Calgary before taking a wild 7-5 decision the following night in Dallas.

Friday's contest saw the Blues and Stars combine to set an NHL record for scoring the four fastest goals. The four markers came in a 49-second time span, setting a league mark according to Elias Sports Bureau.

Travis Moen started the span for Dallas with 11 seconds left in the first period. Patrik Berglund and Jaden Schwartz then scored 15 and 32 seconds into the second period, respectively, before Jamie Benn ended the barrage for the Stars just six seconds after Schwartz's goal.

Benn's goal 38 seconds into the second was the first of four straight for Dallas, a run which gave the home team a 5-3 lead by the latter stages of the second period. However, the Blues scored the next four markers to end the game.

Despite all the goals neither team converted a power play. St. Louis was 0- for-3 on the man advantage and the Stars failed to score on four power-play opportunities.

Jaden Schwartz netted his second career hat trick to help the Blues outlast Dallas. Patrik Berglund also scored twice while Zbynek Michalek and Alex Pietrangelo each posted a goal and an assist.

"It was kind of a crazy game," said Schwartz. "We kept working, believing in ourselves. Those are always nice wins to be a part of. That goes a long way for belief and character in the locker room."

Brian Elliott stopped 26 shots in the win. Jake Allen will start in net tonight. His only career appearance versus the Blackhawks came on Dec. 3 in Chicago when Allen stopped 29 shots in a 4-1 loss.

Alexander Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko have been sidelined recently with lower-body injuries. Steen is questionable for Sunday after missing three games in a row, while Tarasenko will sit out for a third straight contest.

Tarasenko is pacing the club with 36 goals and 71 points, while Steen is the Blues' second-leading scorer with 62 points.

St. Louis is playing its final road test of the regular season Sunday before capping its schedule on a three-game homestand. The Blues are 23-12-5 as the host this season.