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Blackhawks keeping eye on free-falling Blues

WASHINGTON — With third place in the Central Division guaranteed, the Blackhawks can now look forward to the playoffs, which likely will begin for them on Thursday. But after weeks of discussing what seemed like an inevitable matchup with the Colorado Avalanche, the free-falling St. Louis Blues are now the Hawks’ most likely opponent.

On Thursday night, the Blues lost their fourth straight game, while the Avalanche extended their point streak to nine (8-0-1) to move into the top seed in the division. Both teams have 111 points and two games left, but Colorado has the tiebreaker.

“That inevitable wasn’t really so inevitable after all,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said after Friday’s morning skate in Washington. “The inevitable thing about the whole thing is we’re going to be starting on the road. And who we play, we’ll see. Last night I watched the game, both games late and who would’ve saw that coming? That’s quite a turn of events that probably could be decided late Sunday, so we’ll see.”

Injuries aren’t helping the Blues right the ship. Already missing Vladimir Tarasenko and David Backes (day to day), St. Louis lost T.J. Oshie after an illegal hit to the head by Minnesota’s Mike Rupp, and Brenden Morrow to a foot injury.

The Blues were the most dominant team in the league for much of the season, but are falling apart at the worst possible time.

“If we do end up playing them and they’re still kind of on that downward slope, that’s definitely the type of team you’d want to jump all over right away and kind of grab that momentum early and hopefully keep it,” Brandon Bollig said. “But we know what it’s like to go through tough times like that. I don’t want to give any tips to them, but I’m sure they know what to do.”

Just like everyone else in the hockey world, the Hawks have been keeping an eye on the Blues’ struggles. But they also remember that less than two weeks ago, the Hawks appeared to be falling apart, having lost three in a row and four of five.

“I know how it works,” defenseman Johnny Oduya said. “Once the drop of the puck [happens] in the first game, everything else is out the window. It’s a whole new season, it’s a new start for everybody. It’s tough. Obviously, you want to have good momentum going in, but that can change either way in the first couple of minutes in the first game.”

NOTES: Even though the Hawks are locked into third place, Quenneville said he’ll field a regular lineup tonight against the Capitals. Several players could be rested Saturday night in Nashville, however. … Corey Crawford will start tonight. … Teuvo Teravainen will make his Rockford IceHogs debut tonight. Rockford is in 10th place, two points out of a playoff spot, with five games to play. “It gives him a chance to get in some games, very meaningful games, as well,” Quenneville said. “It’ll be a good test and a good challenge for him, as well.”

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