The Blackhawks and the Columbus Blue Jackets are about to get to know each other quite well.
The teams met Friday night at the United Center for the first of four remaining games this season between the Central Division rivals, all of which will come in a 26-day span. The Hawks won the first two meetings before Christmas.
But the Blue Jackets served notice that the series could be a battle to the end as they defeated the Hawks 5-3 before a crowd of 22,176 to extend their winning streak to four games. The defeat was the Hawks' third in their last four games and pulled the Blue Jackets within five points of the fourth-place Hawks in the Western Conference.
Antoine Vermette scored two goals to help drop the Hawks' record at home to 18-7-6 with one more contest on their four-game homestand. The Hawks lost despite getting a goal and an assist each from Brent Seabrook and Kris Versteeg.
Columbus raced to a 2-0 first-period lead on goals from Vermette and Kristian Huselius. Vermette's came just 45 seconds into the game.
"We were just a little flat for some reason," said Seabrook, whose second-period score brought the Hawks within a goal after the slow start. "We had a great second period. But you have to have good starts to be a good team."
The Hawks came out flying in the second as Seabrook cashed in just after a penalty to Rostislav Klesla of the Jackets expired. The defenseman fired a shot from the top of the right circle that sailed past Columbus goalie Wade Dubielewicz. Seabrook's teammate, Dustin Byfuglien, was camped in front of Dubielewicz providing a screen.
With Byfuglien providing more traffic, the Hawks tied it 1:40 later, this time still on a power play. Versteeg redirected a Duncan Keith shot from inside the blue line past Dubielewicz for his 19th goal.
Columbus cashed in with a man advantage when Vermette scored his second of the night late in the second, and Raffi Torres scored off a rebound of his own shot early in the third to make it 4-2.
Patrick Kane's power-play goal cut the deficit to 4-3 with just less than six minutes remaining. He raced around the back of the Columbus goal and wrapped his 22nd goal of the season past Dubielewicz.
The Hawks had an opportunity to tie it late after a penalty to R.J. Umberger with 1:01 remaining. With Cristobal Huet on the bench and the teams skating six-on-four, the Hawks couldn't cash in before Rick Nash finished the scoring with an empty-net goal.
The Hawks and Blue Jackets now have three games left against each other as the season winds down. They will meet March 18 in Columbus and have a rematch there April 5 before the final pairing April 8 at the United Center.
"It's never good to get down two goals, especially to a team like that," Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "At times we played great. If we get a couple of bounces and a couple of loose pucks go in five-on-five, it's a different game."