Friday, Feb. 25, 2011Posted: 6:20 p.m.
By Chris Boden
Two road wins against teams just as desperate. Stars stepping up. Compete levels being raised and physical sacrifices being made.
The last five games havent been perfect for the Blackhawks, but thats not even necessary. Or realistic. Hopefully, its not what Hawks fans are hoping or expecting. But its as consistently well as theyve played all season, showing signs of what theyre capable of. You can make an argument that the four-game stretch prior to Christmas was just as good. But its what everyones been looking for, from management to coaches to fans to the players themselves. Next up: Building upon it and carrying it into the playoffs.
They have to. Right now, all hands are on deck from a health standpoint, while many other contenders are continuing their post-season fight battling key injuries (Nashville, Minnesota, Anaheim and Dallas). Thursday night, it was an awfully quiet night for the Preds best players. You didnt hear Pat and Eddie call the names of Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Patric Hornqvist, Mike Fisher or Sergei Kostitsyn very often in a threatening way. You also saw the Hawks block 21 shots (13 by defensemen). Over the last three games, 21s been the team average.
Marian Hossas burst through the middle of the ice in the third period, breaking away, and beating one of the leagues elite goalies in Pekka Rinne with the game in the balance Thursday was another sight to see. As was his overpowering of the Blues David Backes Monday before setting up a Dave Bolland goal. It was just the second time since Hossas blazing start to the season (prior to his first injury) that hes scored a goal that wasnt on a power play, empty net, or penalty shot. I would imagine hes aware of it, and been feeling it as much as the aches, pains and illnesses hes gone through following three straight long runs to the Stanley Cup Finals.
And if you didnt catch it right after the game on Comcast SportsNet, interesting stuff from Duncan Keith while talking with Foley and Olczyk:
I always find I play my best keeping the game simple, not trying to do too much, and just let the game come. Early on, you come back after a long season and I had a lot of hunger to try to do whatever I could to have a successful season, and thinking in my head, trying to repeat everything that happened last season. I shouldve just been letting it happen. I feel a lot more comfortable the last month. I just want to keep going to help the team get in the playoffs.
Its a fine line the coaching staff has to negotiate when it comes to leaning on your best players. There have been so many tight games, and their heavy workload following the Stanley Cup run cannot be dismissed. The top four defensemen have been burning up minutes, though the recent changes in combinations has helped offset the heavy, high-pressure special teams time. Thats why Stan Bowmans come out and said he wants to acquire a proven blue-line guy before Mondays trade deadline who can take some of the penalty-kill burden off of those guys. It would appear hes closer to doing that after placing Nick Boynton (and the 500,000 salary space it would open up) on waivers Friday. Throw that into what cap space they have left open, in part due to the Nick LeddyRockford shuttle, and a new D-man should be on the way in short order.
As we wait on any potential deals thatll put the finishing touches on the rosters of the playoff-chasers, a reminder that the first tie-breaker in the standings is now wins that do NOT include shootout wins. Here are the regulationovertime victory totals of the teams that entered the weekend 3 through 13 in the West (with the number of wins that include shootouts in parentheses):
San Jose 32 (35)Phoenix 30 (33)Los Angeles 27 (34)Minnesota 30 (32)Blackhawks 28 (32)Dallas 27 (32)Nashville 25 (31)Calgary 24 (31)Anaheim 28 (32)Columbus 26 (30)St. Louis 25 (27)
Chris Boden is the host of Blackhawks Pre and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet.