Blackhawks Confidential

Down to sweet 16, Blackhawks should set team points record by surpassing 107

ovechkin.jpgSagging in the middle is certainly nothing new to me. It's been my way of life for decades, so I can sympathize with the Blackhawks' midsection blues.

If they plan to plug the middle of games better than they have, this would be the weekend to start, since they will be facing two of the top three NHL offenses in scoring in the middle period.

The Hawks seek to be weekend matinee idols with an afternoon game in Philadelphia Saturday followed immediately with an afternoon game at United Center Sunday against Washington and NHL points and goals-scoring leader Alexander "The Great" Ovechkin, whose 12-letter middle name of Mikhaylovich can't even match the 14-4 troublesome second-period scoring edge that opponents hold over the Hawks in the five games since the Olympic break ended.

As far as I'm concerned, Ovechkin will be trying to erase the stench of the Olympics for a disgraced Russian team by blazing in front of the NBC cameras Sunday against the Hawks.

The guy's got a mean streak (just look at those searing Dostoevsky eyes, straight out of Crime And Punishment) and a desire to succeed more than ever at clutch moments when that spotlight glares its brightest. Bet he's related to Raskolnikov, too, and carries an ax around in his duffle.

So it's best to put out an all-points bulletin right now to arrest this one-man red army tank upon sight, because he is armed and dangerous with a longer list of credits than Tolstoy's War and Peace.

Washington has managed 86 second-period goals in 67 games, more than anyone. Philadelphia ranks third with 79 second-period goals in 66 games, which is surpassed only by San Jose's 84, and the Flyers (7-2-1 in their last 10 games just like the Hawks) have plenty at stake in solidifying their playoff position and pushing off late-season challenges from Montreal and Boston.

Sucking it up in the middle and stealing these four points from the formidable Capitals and Flyers would go a long way toward the Hawks making a strong run at moving beyond 100 points during a three-game westward swing that starts next Wednesday at Anaheim before continuing to a quick rematch with the Kings in Los Angeles and then on to Phoenix.

With their future looking so rosy, hopefully the Hawks don't let the sun get in their eyes during their bathing-suit journey.

With 16 games and a possible 32 points left to grab, they should surpass last season's 104 points and be on their way to an all-time points record by the Chicago organization.

Currently at 93 points, going 8-8 would land them at 109 points. That would carry them past the team high of 107 points recorded by the '70-'71, '71-'72 Hawks (when the regular season was 78 games) and the 106 points registered by the '90-'91 Hawks, '92-'93 Hawks. (Note: the '92-93 season had 84 regular-season games).

If the Hawks go 8-8 from here, there will be some serious bitching and gnashing of teeth as they stumble into the playoffs with a .500 record. So let's hold a sweet sixteen contest. Pick your finish: be it good, bad or mediocre.

I select 9-5-2. Only because the Hawks have gone all season without a real slump and I have to believe they are motivated enough right now to start peaking for the postseason.

If I'm right, the Hawks finish with 113 points. And Antti Niemi is your starting goaltender going into the postseason. Of course, I can't remember the last time I've been right. Just ask my wife. I'm in a prolonged slump, so Cristobal Huet has that going for him.

Of course, the Capitals bring an overwhelming offense to Chicago Sunday that is prolific no matter what period it is, so it won't be simply a matter of stopping them in the second.

For example, Washington's 93 third-period goals are a very far cry from Chicago's 62 during the final period and the best finishing kick in the league. Something's gotta give when the Caps' pistol-packing shooters have a third-period showdown with Chicago's iron defense.

This is a weekend of strength versus strength. The Hawks' vaunted penalty killers will be up against Ovechkin's 31 power-play points (11 goals) and teammate Nicklas Backstrom's equally dangerous 31 power-play points (11 goals). That's double trouble, allright.

Even on Saturday, the Flyers also feature two of the NHL's best on the power play, and again it's a matter of controlling a pair of aces. Mike Richards has 13 power-play goals, tied for third best in the league, while Jeff Carter has 11.

If you want something to worry about as you cheer the Hawks to a 100-whatever point finish, history shows that of their two 107-point finishes and their two 106-point finishes, simply one of those seasons ended with the team in the championship round.

The '70-'71 Hawks lost to Montreal in seven games in the Stanley Cup finals, while the '71-'72 version lost in the second round to the New York Rangers 4-0.

The 106-point editions were also historic disasters with a 1991 first-round playoff loss to Minnesota 4-2 and a 1993 first-round playoff loss to St. Louis 4-0.

But let's just imagine we are overdue for a new chapter in Hawks history to be written. We certainly have a team that has given its all based on many measuring sticks.

Although injury has depleted the Hawks this season, it's a sign of stamina as well that as many as seven players are on pace to play a full 82-game schedule.

These Lou Gehrig skaters for the Hawks are Duncan Keith (leading the NHL with an average even-strength ice time of 20 minutes, 48 seconds), Patrick Kane (whose 210 shots have him closing in on last year's 254-shot output from 80 games), Patrick Sharp. Brian Campbell, Troy Brouwer, Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien.

You can argue what Byfuglien gives from game to game. But at least he's there every game.

Who's in line to play a full season for a second straight year?

Just Campbell and Ladd.

The only thing that can stop Chicago right now, and beat them down flatter than a pancake, is a major injury loss we can't foresee and hopefully never witness.

We need to get through the sweet 16 without that sour note, or else the playoffs would be more challenging than it needs to be.

Hell, we are already fighting Blackhawks history, where the good has gone bad in postseason play more often than not.

Lord, give us no bigger crosses to bear than the sad record book. And make Sunday not the last time we see Ovechkin this year.

Ovechkin wants a bigger stage to show his true worth. The Hawks want a bigger stage to show the time has come for a championship in Chicago.

I'll take that Stanley Cup matchup, won't you? And so will NBC, whose officials would be pissing in their pants in a good way for a change to train the camera on all the politicians and celebrities who would be seated front-and-center for a Capitals-Blackhawks championship.

President Obama would have to choose a side and not elect to stay in the middle. Chicago or Washington, Mr. President?

Dreams of Obama getting on camera from a skybox at the UC already must have team president John McDonough with a stiffie, one vision of red rising I hope we never see.

Let's treat Sunday as the preliminary round of what will be the title match, and let's wash out Ovechkin so badly that he turns from red to a dark shade of blueberry, as we give him a taste of Chicago defense and the raspberries.

It should be a very entertaining weekend of hockey. Let's hope we don't have any Monday blues.

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5 Comments

VegasHawksFan said:

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For Hossa's first game back and for the contest with the Devils, I was very impressed with how this team stepped up. If they bring that for the entire playoffs, and there shouldn't be any reason they don't, I believe that can achieve their "One Goal". I wouldn't count out the Pens to again send the Caps to the golf tees, but the Caps are definitely going to be a force this year.

Our D at the start of the year versus right now is almost like two different teams. The talent and potential is there, but the lights out result isn't. I honestly believe Sopel is a bigger cog then he gets credit for and I am glad he's back. Hitting those numbers you listed Mike would be something else. But this is a Chicago team and nothing ever comes easy. I'd love to see them break some records, but I'd also really like to see them make every really stupid mistake they can right now instead of in the playoffs. This Sunday, I hope Q makes every experiment that he needs to in order to find a winning formula for a possibly match up down the road.

Dave Morris said:

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"If I'm right, the Hawks finish with 113 points. And Antti Niemi is your starting goaltender going into the postseason."

Right on, Doctor Kiley.

And the Vegas bookies still have the Hawkey Flock as favorites for the Final Four...some even say the Final.

Mike Kiley said:

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If I knew YOUR GUY Huet was going to play more, I'd revise to 108 points and a prayer. Do people (re: oddsmakers) pray in Las Vegas? Other than the people who are dumb enough to vote for Harry Reid.

beaverwarrior said:

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Just saw that Huet is starting in net against Philly....UGGGH

borg said:

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Hawks throw the fucking game away in Philly. Huet plays decently until the game's on the line.

Hawks get 2 goals despite throwing about 85 shots towards Leighton. Incidentally, that's two former Hawks castoffs (Leighton, Anderson) who are better than what Chicago has in goal.

Kane must've been at the bars until dawn because he was invisible.

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