Blues-Blackhawks Preview

The Associated Press

With their defense and special teams leading the way, the red-hot St. Louis Blues are nearing their first division title since 2000.

While the Blues have been superb lately, trips to Chicago usually haven't brought out their best.

St. Louis will try to add to its season-high win streak Tuesday night by snapping a five-game road skid to the Blackhawks, who likely won't have captain Jonathan Toews available.

The Blues (45-18-7) have allowed two goals or fewer in every game during a 9-1-0 stretch, the longest such streak in the NHL this season. They've given up only one in each of their five consecutive wins and killed off 47 straight penalties, including a season-high eight during a 2-1 win in Columbus on Sunday.

Jaroslav Halak made 26 of his 33 saves over the final two periods to preserve that victory, his career-best eighth in a row.

"A win is a win. It wasn't pretty," Halak said following the opener of a season-high, seven-game trip. "We didn't play our game for 60 minutes, but we were still able to come out with a big two points."

Halak's performance also helped push St. Louis six points ahead of Detroit in the Central Division and four points ahead of the New York Rangers in the race for the Presidents' Trophy. The Blues last won that trophy while claiming their most recent division title and were led by current Chicago coach Joel Quenneville.

To help its cause, St. Louis will try to end its 0-3-2 skid at the United Center and earn only its fifth win in the past 18 visits to Chicago. The Blues have given up a combined 23 goals over their past five games at the United Center against the Blackhawks, including a 3-1 loss Feb. 19.

That game also marked the last time Toews was on the ice for Chicago (37-25-8). The Blackhawks captain has missed the past 10 games with what's being called an upper-body injury but is believed to be a concussion.

He has returned to practice, although he rested Tuesday, but has not been cleared for contact.

Chicago is 5-4-1 in his absence but has won three of five. The Blackhawks just missed out on another victory Sunday when they fell 3-2 in a shootout with visiting Los Angeles.

Patrick Kane scored the tying goal with 12:24 left in regulation, but he was also the first of six players who couldn't beat Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick in the extra session. Viktor Stalberg also missed a penalty shot in the third period.

"We at least got a point out of it," Kane said. "You'd obviously like to win in a shootout or overtime, but it's not going to happen every time."

The Blackhawks didn't come close to earning a point during their visit to St. Louis last Tuesday. Andy McDonald scored a pair of goals in the Blues' 5-1 win, and Halak made 19 saves while improving to 3-0-1 with a 1.48 goals-against average in four starts against Chicago.

"They're on an amazing roll," Quenneville said. "It's going to be a hard game, physical game and important game for everybody."

Quenneville could start Ray Emery again for Tuesday's game as he's 3-1-0 with a 2.21 GAA in four career matchups with the Blues, but Emery also took the loss in last week's matchup.

The teams have split their four meetings this season and conclude their season series March 29 at the United Center.