By Andy Lefkowitz
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
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
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