Bruins, Blackhawks battle for playoff positioning

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks already have locked up their 16th division championship, not to mention the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference playoffs.

Earning the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's points leader -- and home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs -- is the next item on the Blackhawks' wish list. Chicago (50-21-7) has 107 points with four games to go in the regular season, which trails only the Washington Capitals, who have 110 points with five games remaining.

The Blackhawks have an opportunity to climb closer to the No. 1 overall spot when they host the Boston Bruins (42-30-6) in a Sunday matinee at the United Center.

The game marks the regular-season home finale for Chicago, which will finish with three road games before the playoffs start in mid-April.

Boston would love to spoil the party vibe that has existed for much of the season on Chicago's West Side, where the Blackhawks have posted a 26-9-5 record on their home ice. The Bruins are riding a four-game win streak and will try to push it to five as they look to improve their postseason predicament.

A crowded playoff race in the Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division currently features the Bruins as the second wild-card team with 90 points and four games to go. A strong finish could allow the Bruins to leapfrog the Toronto Maple Leafs and or the Ottawa Senators, both of whom have 91 points and five games remaining.

Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Lightning are out of the playoff mix entering Sunday but trail the Bruins by only four points and have one game in hand. The week ahead could determine whether Boston hosts a first-round playoff series -- or even reaches the postseason at all.

The numbers can be difficult to digest, so Bruins players have taken a more simple approach.

"You've got to keep winning," Torey Krug told the team's official website. "The other teams are going to continue to win. If we keep doing this, then we don't have to look at the standings and look for help elsewhere. So we just need to focus on ourselves and continue to play our game and keep looking to make improvements."

Boston is led in scoring by Brad Marchand, who has 84 points (39 goals, 45 assists) in 78 contests. Three other players have 20-plus goals: David Pastrnak (32), David Krejci (23) and Patrice Bergeron (20).

Remarkably, Chicago has six players with at least 20 goals, and that number could reach seven if Ryan Hartman (18 goals) scores twice in the final four contests. The Blackhawks' scoring leader is reigning Hart Trophy winner Patrick Kane (34 goals, 53 assists), who has two straight multi-point games and 24 on the season.

Artemi Panarin (28 goals) has scored in each of the past three games, and Marian Hossa (26 goals) has goals in the past two contests. The Blackhawks have won back-to-back games and need two more wins to match the franchise record of 52 regular-season victories set during the 2009-10 campaign.

"We have the scoring spread through the team and it's not just one line doing all the heavy lifting," Hossa said. "Even the third and fourth lines contribute, and it's huge -- especially in the playoffs. We're getting wins, but we're also playing a lot better."

Anton Khudobin is expected to start in net for the Bruins in place of Tuukka Rask, who started Saturday. Khudobin is 6-5-1 with a 2.60 goals-against average and .899 save percentage in 12 games this season.

Corey Crawford likely will start for the Blackhawks after stopping 32 of 33 shots in Friday night's win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. He is 32-16-3 with a 2.50 GAA and .920 save percentage in 52 games.

If Crawford rests, Chicago coach Joel Quenneville will turn to Scott Darling in net. Darling is 18-5-4 with a 2.32 GAA and .924 save percentage in 31 contests.
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