Friday, March 4, 2011
By Chris Boden
One glance out at the United Center ice at this morning's game-day skate brought a sense of...Hmmm. If not, "Uh-oh."
The league's hottest player right now, Jonathan Toews, and the left wing on the league's hottest line, Patrick Sharp, were nowhere to be found. Patrick Kane skated with whomever would take him along.
Not to worry, however. Head Coach Joel Quenneville indicated afterward that both, along with defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, were just nursing some aches and pains and are expected to face the Carolina Hurricanes tonight.
"Both of them are just taking a rest from practice, nursing some things," Kane said. "I expect 'em both to be back and be in there."
Corey Crawford will make his NHL career-high 10th consecutive start, though Quenneville admits with three back-to-backs over the next seven games, his workload will be something that's addressed game-by-game.
It's also the beginning of a five-game stretch against the East after playing the last five weeks exclusively against the West, except for one game. The Hurricanes come to town following an emotional home overtime win against Buffalo, which inched them up to 7th in that conference. Tomorrow night, the Hawks open a four-game trip versus a Toronto team that's surged back into contention by going 10-2-4 since the All-Star break. Since the Hawks haven't faced the Canes since last January, when goalie Cam Ward stood on his head against them, newcomer Chris Campoli faced them three times this season with Ottawa.
"It's a young team, high-paced, aggressive. They come at you in waves and you definitely can't take them lightly. This game's just as big for them as it is for us. They've got some guys to key on. If we give them low-percentage chances we'll have success."
"Look at the standings," Campoli's defensive partner, Brian Campbell, said. "We've won six in a row and two points up in the playoffs and we know how quickly it can be taken away. Obviously Carolina's fighting for the playoffs too, so it's a big contest for us.."
"It's a different style out there in the East," Kane added. "A little bit different than what we're used to here in the West. Carolina needs to win, we need to win. It comes down to getting two points."
That's the message Quenneville hopes everyone in his locker room understands.
"You look at where they're at - the same boat. It's a fast team with guys who make plays and score goals. The approach has to be the same as the last four games - the same intensity and attitude. These other teams have a lot at stake as well."
Eighteen-year-old Jeff Skinner leads all rookies in scoring with 48 points, including 22 goals. The 7th overall draft pick last June is tied for the league lead in rookie power play points with 16.
One Week from Today
The Blackhawks will be hanging with President Obama next Friday after the official announcement came down yesterday.
"It's pretty cool," Campbell said. "We're all excited about it and getting to shake hands with the President will be something special. I've got a picture with President Clinton and I want to add to the collection, so I'm looking forward to it."
Kane will be reunited with an old friend.
"For some reason he wanted to talk to me after the (Stanley Cup-clinching) game, and I remember we were doing our team photo with the Cup (at the United Center two days later), and we had to interrupt it for about two minutes. It's pretty exciting. I'll probably bring my FlipCam and take it all in. We should have some good memories."
Chris Boden is the host of Blackhawks Pre and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet.