February 21, 2015

The questions surrounding the Chicago Blackhawks concerning suspensions, injuries and their playoff standing are slowly getting answered.

The Boston Bruins' top concern is still up in the air.

The Blackhawks continue life without several key contributors on Sunday as they try to build their lead for a top-three spot in the Central Division against the visiting Bruins, who hope not to fall out of a frantic Eastern Conference race.

Chicago (45-26-7) seems destined for a first-round matchup against either Dallas or St. Louis in the West due to a healthy lead over Nashville for the Central's third automatic spot with four games left.

The Blackhawks learned prior to Friday's game at Winnipeg that they would play their final five contests plus their playoff opener without reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner Duncan Keith, who was suspended by the NHL for ''dangerously and violently'' high-sticking Minnesota's Charlie Coyle in Tuesday's 4-1 loss.

''One playoff game is very big when you know his importance to our team and the minutes that he absorbs,'' coach Joel Quenneville said.

The fear is that Chicago will also be without injured goaltender Corey Crawford for the beginning of its Stanley Cup defense, though he took the ice at Saturday's practice for the first time since mid-March to work out with goaltender coach Jimmy Waite.

There has been growing concern about Crawford's injury, which is officially listed as an upper-body ailment but is feared to be a concussion or related to vertigo. Quenneville said Saturday he hopes Crawford can play in a game prior to the playoffs.

In the meantime, it will be backup Scott Darling making his ninth straight start on Sunday. Darling has helped the Blackhawks to a 4-3-1 record without Crawford with a .912 save percentage, exactly his season mark.

While Marian Hossa will return from an illness that kept him out of Friday's 5-4 overtime win at Winnipeg, Andrew Shaw will sit after suffering an upper-body injury.

However, the Blackhawks still have linemates Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin. Kane scored his 40th goal and added an assist against the Jets to move his NHL lead to 96 points, and Panarin had two goals and two assists to improve his rookie-leading numbers to 27 and 41.

Chicago followed a 1-4-2 stretch with three wins on its four-game road trip.

Kane and Panarin will try to help the Blackhawks snap a four-game home skid when they face Tuukka Rask, who has an .888 save percentage in his last seven starts after Friday's 6-5 win at St. Louis.

However, Boston (41-29-8) picked up a significant victory thanks to two goals and two assists from David Krejci and one of each from Matt Beleskey and Loui Eriksson. The Bruins are in a tight race with Detroit for the Atlantic's third seed and could miss out on a wild-card spot if they lose it.

Boston had scored only 10 goals while losing six of its previous seven games.

''You have to play desperate every night and now we have to move forward,'' said Patrice Bergeron, who scored his 30th goal. ''It's about making sure we do the job and we only worry about that one game.''

Bergeron, Eriksson, Brad Marchand and Ryan Spooner scored as the Bruins beat Chicago 4-2 on March 3 in Boston. It was their second straight win over the Blackhawks during a 5-1-1 stretch in this series.

Boston has a seven-game regular-season point streak at the United Center, compiling a 4-0-3 record there since February 2004.

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