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Blue Jackets hope to clinch playoff berth vs. Blackhawks

By Andy Lefkowitz

Stats Editor

Columbus (40-29-10) at Chicago (44-24-11) 8:30 p.m. EDT

CHICAGO (AP) -- After 643 games and more than 8 1/2 years, the

Columbus Blue Jackets are on the cusp of a franchise first.

Needing one point to clinch its first trip to the postseason,

Columbus on Wednesday night will face the Chicago Blackhawks,

who are still in the hunt for home-ice advantage in the opening

round of the playoffs.

The Blue Jackets, who entered the league as an expansion team in

2000, are the only current NHL club that has yet to play beyond

the regular season. Prior to 2008-09, Columbus had never tallied

more than 80 points or finished higher than third in its


They're still in line to end up in the middle of the pack in the

Central Division, but the Blue Jackets continued their

postseason push Sunday when they gained a valuable point with a

1-0 overtime loss at home to the Blackhawks.

Though it comes into Chicago having lost two straight after

regulation, Columbus (40-29-10) is sixth in the Western

Conference and owns a two-point lead over Anaheim and St. Louis.

"This is what it takes for non-established teams to establish a

territory in the league. This is what is takes to get in (to the

playoffs)," said Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock, a Stanley Cup

winner with Dallas a decade ago.

"There is a hell of a price to pay to get in. We're trying to

teach guys how high the price is and we're getting a lot on the

job training right now."

Columbus had 20 shots on goal against the Blackhawks, but

Nikolai Khabibulin - a Cup winner with Tampa Bay in 2004 -

posted his 40th career shutout.

Steve Mason, meanwhile, permitted fellow rookie Kris Versteeg's

goal with 1:50 to play in the extra session as the Blackhawks

took another step toward locking down the No. 4 seed and a

matchup against either Vancouver or Calgary in the opening round

of the postseason.

"That's a playoff-type game," said Versteeg, second among

rookies with 51 points. "The game was played very simply. Both

teams really came out there and wanted that point."

Mason, a likely finalist for the Calder Trophy, is 1-1-1 with a

1.95 goals-against average against the Blackhawks in 2008-09.

His only regulation loss to them was a 3-1 defeat in Chicago on

Dec. 14

The Blackhawks (44-24-11) return to the United Center after

helping out Columbus. They damaged Nashville's playoff hopes

with a 4-2 victory on Tuesday.

Johnathan Toews and Dustin Byfuglien scored in the opening

minute of the second period to erase a one-goal deficit, and

Patrick Kane and Martin Havlat each had a goal and assist.

"I still think we have the motivation of knowing that we haven't

accomplished our goals yet and I think that's pushing us,"

Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "It was a huge two points

for us."

Khabibulin made 22 saves to improve to 4-0-0 with a 0.98 GAA

this month. The league's reigning second star of the week,

however, is 2-4-1 with a 3.69 GAA in seven home starts against

the Blue Jackets since joining the Blackhawks in 2005.

Chicago needs one point to reach 100 for the first time in 16




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