Blackhawks Confidential

Blackhawks season Archives

Marathon man Keith needs one goal (and a few pluses) for Blackhawks to win

Duncan Keith was the Blackhawks' second leading scorer during the regular season, but has never scored a postseason goal in the NHL.

Does that compute to feeling confident that this postseason is far from over and the hounds of hell will be unleashed for Game 2 Sunday night?

In 18 playoff games, the Norris Trophy-contending defenseman has six assists and is a very mediocre minus-2. He was minus-3 in Friday night's 4-1 loss to Nashville, but he spent just over 29 minutes on the ice, so when bad things happen good chance he will be somewhere nearby and it's not always going to be his fault.

And yet, innocent bystander that he may sometimes be, he is going to get blamed until he develops a postseason reputation that is beyond reproach, and he hasn't done that so far.

Would a Norris win for Keith really be notable if he can't solidify a reputation as a go-to guy during the playoffs?

Keith didn't score a point in last year's first-round triumph over Calgary. He contributed five assists in overcoming Vancouver in the second round before his offense again went on the blink for that Western Conference finals shortfall against Detroit.

If your team's second-leading scorer doesn't score in the postseason with some regularity, explain to me again how the Hawks are destined to be Stanley Cup champions? I'm quite eager to hear both sides of the story.

If you have a point in rebuttal, I wish you'd share it with Keith. He needs all the points that could boost his credentials.

In fact, Keith is a combined minus-8 in his last eight playoff games. Hockey purists hate it when you mix and match analogies with other sports, but since Keith is the quarterback of this team, isn't that like watching your quarterback get sacked eight times?

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Lucky bounces complicate matters for Blackhawks in 4-1 loss to Nashville

OK, class, settle down. Do we have everybody's attention after taking this spitball to the face Friday night?

So much for the Blackhawks' home crowd being the loudest in the NHL. At the end of this 4-1 loss to Nashville, they were one of the quietest crowds in NHL history. Another myth blown to smithereens.

It may have opened with the famous raucous chaos of the national anthem, but it ended with Taps. I think it's time to move on from all the phony BS surrounding the Hawks and point out they were just outhustled when it mattered. Not only their marketing took a beating, but that aura of the Hawks being predestined to get to the Stanley Cup finals was shaken to its core with the Hawks getting chased off the ice in the third period.

Let's figure out how to win the first round before we start talking about the finals, shall we? Say, while I'm thinking about it, did that EA video game simulation that had the Hawks the champions also have them losing to Nashville in the first game?

Hell, if this could happen in Chicago, what's going to take place when it gets to Nashville?

Then again, the Hawks often play better on the road. So much for the myth about the very important support of the home crowd. Sorry, folks, but you don't matter that much.

Antti Niemi looked strangely like Cristobal Huet when Jean-Pierre Dumont, who had a brief Hawks career, flung a backhanded dump-in at the net early in the third. Huet..oh, sorry...I mean Niemi swung and missed as the knuckler bounced by him, hit the left post and just nestled into the net for a goal that just can't happen, be it October or April. Tied 1-1.

"It was lucky, but I'll take it," Dumont said.

Even then, being Chicagoans with lots of practice at losing, you started to get a sinking feeling. The Hawks offense was as dangerous from there as a chili fart, popping up here and there, but mostly stinking.

From that point the Hawks were in scramble mode. And they ended up with scrambled egg on their faces, handing the Predators their first postseason win in 11 tries.

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Who's the Blackhawks' playoff party crasher? Brouwer, Kopecky, Fraser, Byfuglien or TBA

Who's going to win the Blackhawks' party crasher award in the playoffs?

I mean a guy from the fringes of the team that comes rolling along and makes a difference that embellishes his reputation forever, because he arrives in grand style on an even bigger stage than he has ever drawn notice or spoken any lines that are really meaningful before.

We all comprehend the overwhelming odds favor the usual suspects such as Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook having a major influence on what happens. If they don't, sayonara.

But what player or players will skate out of the shadows and rate more attention than expected? Every championship team needs an oddball or two that impacts what transpires more than anyone could have predicted. Oddsballs at even strength are needed to win.

For instance, Troy Brouwer scored 10 goals, 26 points in 2008-09. Once he took that year-long platform into the 2009 postseason, his periphery status stayed on the sidelines.

Brouwer showed no net gain with no goals, 2 assists and a minus-1 in 17 games. He remained a nobody for all intents and purposes.

He may have played fairly well from a team aspect to help get them as far as the Western Conference finals, but no one really noticed Brouwer enough for him to be the talk of the town.

This time, the anticipation will be that Brouwer adds between 6 to 9 points and maybe even scores two or three times. Four or five goals (not impossible) would get him just scads of attention.

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Bill Wirtz follows Earl Woods and speaks to Rocky from grave: also about hookers and money

In heaven, they asked Bill Wirtz if he would be the next father to step to the big microphone in the clouds and cut a haunting, resonant commercial for his son. They liked the concept of a sequel to Tiger looking like he had lost his new, best porn friend and was in danger of bleating tears bigger than golf balls any second while he listened to dear old dad's philosophic ruminations on the examined life.

The divine powers-that-be wanted a continuation of all the buzz they got by making Earl Woods available for the folks at Nike to probe into Tiger's oversexed psyche before playing The Masters. Not even in the grave can you escape the smothering need to assuage guilt at all costs and make a buck in the meantime.

Of course, you know how Bill Wirtz is about TV. Dead or alive, Dollar Bill (a name he actually warmed to, the same as Machine Gun Kelly) wanted to be assured that no TV commercial would be available in the Chicago market, not without severe penalty for copyright infringement. Heaven doesn't have any lawyers, but Wirtz leased some from hell for the negotiations and put them up at the heavenly Bismarck Hotel.

After a few Dewars and water and a couple packs of cigarettes, because this is heaven remember where you only die once, Wirtz softened his stance and was willing to impart some stentorian, sage advice from his past life as an errant human, same way Earl did, and take part in the new unreality series "Voices From Beyond."

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Keith puts golden reputation on the line, needs his first great playoffs

He gets a lot of praise, and rightfully so. He likely will be proclaimed this summer as the National Hockey League's best defenseman when he is awarded the Norris Trophy.

And it will all ring hollow unless Duncan Keith makes a name for himself in a single postseason, an honor he has yet to come close to capturing. The Hawks' leader in ice time has to be a leader in crunch time.

There is intense pressure on Keith to prove that he can respond in the playoffs for a very simple reason. He has never done it to anyone's satisfaction before, certainly not even his own, and at 26 years of age his time has come to be the difference maker on the biggest stage of all--or be burdened as just another underachiever when the lights are bright enough to burn or embellish.

So forget about the inexperienced Antti Niemi in goal. Keith has no playoff experience either at being the superstar of the show, and if he falls shy of his best again, he pulls this contending club down with him faster than anyone else.

His postseason record is only one year old, but unless Keith is dramatically improved from a less than stellar 2009 postseason, the Hawks have no chance to claim a Stanley Cup championship this year.

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All signs point to Blackhawks beating Nashville in first round series

Since the Blackhawks have beaten the Nashville Predators four of six games this season, I see no reason why they shouldn't overcome the patient, plugging Preds in the first round of the NHL playoffs, beginning this week.

After all, let's be honest here, folks, if the Hawks can't eject Nashville, they don't deserve to go anywhere else anyway. If you can't do the expected, there will be no chance after years and years of rejection of doing the unexpected and winning a championship in this city the hockey gods forgot and banished to the eternal penalty box a long time ago.

Here is what should be the key difference for me. The Hawks penalty killing was one of the league's best at a 85.28 success ratio. Nashville was one of the worst, better only than the dreadful Islanders and Maple Leafs, at 77.13.

Right there, it's easy as ABC. You score on the power play enough, they don't, you win.

Of course, we all know the Hawks finished 2-for-27 on the power play in their closing nine games and were a spotty 3-for-19 against the Preds on the power play this season. So I'm just going out on a limb assuming the Hawks' power play rises to the occasion to get past their opening opponent.

I've been out on that limb before and have a few broken bones to show for it. But what the hell? No way the Hawks lose to the Preds in the first round. Ain't going to happen and you can post that on whatever bulletin board you like.

After all, Nashville was only 1-for-19 on the power play against Chicago, so we should have that small edge in the power play, as poorly as we have seen the Hawks play with the man advantage. And don't even bring up the two-man advantage.

Disappointed the Hawks lost 3-2 in overtime to Detroit Sunday at United Center on Brad Stuart's goal? Forget it. Just one final stinging detail, a reminder really to be better.

I know some Hawks fans are always ready to go for the razor blades when Detroit comes out on top, and I guess you could find plenty of people to argue which one of these clubs is on a better roll entering the postseason and hear a lot of critics contend it's the Red Wings.

But I'm inclined to go with Joel Quenneville's reaction to whether he expects to confront the Wings again in the postseason. Shut up and let's move on. It's moot if the Hawks fail to be focused on a dangerous Predators team that got very few shots all season against a tough Chicago defense and still managed to win a couple games.

How did that happen? Well, by just plugging along the way Nashville does. Let's listen to Preds coach Barry Trotz's comments after he beat St. Louis in a shootout Saturday.

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Blackhawks power play still may be the unwanted playoff party pooper

I hate to interrupt this Blackhawks' weekend of celebration with a nagging question. Chicago has waited a long time to have a season that didn't end up in the obituary section, often dead and laid to rest before the playoffs began, and we should be focusing heartily on being the life of this party for a change and relishing the rebirth.

But I have been examining the books to see how much in the black the Blackhawks are, just how much capital we have to spend in the postseason, and I find the same deficiency as last April. Someone has embezzled the power play for the second straight year and we enter this important time of the year as naked and bankrupt as we did last year on the power play.

Has any club ever won the Stanley Cup championship with a power play that refuses to join the party? There are several bothersome questions tugging at this urge to perhaps blow our horns if we win in Colorado Friday night and put Detroit in their place as second best to the Hawks in the season finale Sunday to win the West.

Yes, wave those No. 1 fingers. And yet that damned middle finger remains restless at this moment of joy, always shooting up like an obnoxious intruder.

The stickiest question to me is how do the Hawks propose to win 16 playoff games with a power play that can't match San Jose, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Detroit or Colorado? Those clubs range from 21.6 per cent success to 18.4, everywhere from third in the NHL to 12th for the regular season.

The Hawks are 17th at 17.5, even worse on their ballyhooed home ice, and the best they can say about that is defending champion Pittsburgh is a neighbor in that low-rent district at 19th and 17.2.

Rather than hope for a Cup rematch with the Penguins 18 years down the road, I think we'd best face up to this potentially fatal flaw in our celebration.

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Blackhawks-L. A. Kings playoff matchup seems best and shortest way to go

The best scenario of all in the final week of the Blackhawks regular season would be for the Calgary Flames to overtake the Colorado Avalanche for the last playoff spot in the West, while the Blackhawks pass San Jose, win the conference and open the postseason against a Flames' team they have dominated for two straight years.

But since the Avalanche own the tie-breakers against the Flames, having won their season series, it seems more probable from this distance that the Hawks will face either the seventh-place Los Angeles Kings or the eighth-place Avalanche to begin the postseason, depending on whether Chicago finishes first or second in the West next Sunday.

And based on how their games have gone so far this season with L. A. and Colorado, the Kings would seem the easier matchup and the Avalanche more challenging.

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Kane needs to have a Slumpbuster Sunday and a Superman finish

I don't usually write on Saturdays, but I'm here with a special public service announcement. Get to bed early Saturday night. Crazy uncle Mike knows best.

It's Blackhawks Savings Time and we can't waste an hour.

There is always a time to lock the liquor cabinet with an eye toward future headiness. You must occasionally ration energy and martinis.

It's going to be one hell of a sprint to the finish, so we can all start over a week from now by preparing for the playoffs.

Sunday afternoon's game with Calgary in United Center marks the first of five games in eight days to bring the regular season to a conclusion next Sunday in Chicago against Detroit in what may or may not be an emotionally upbeat or downbeat fanfare for what's to come.

The Hawks play at Dallas Tuesday and at Colorado Friday night, while hosting St. Louis in between those road games on Wednesday at the UC.

While the most popular answer right now to what the Hawks need to strengthen during the closing days is defense, defense, defense, I believe we can't overlook our offense and that recent slump by Patrick Kane.

Offense, offense, offense can't be underplayed. A lead allows the defense, defense, defense much bigger latitude to take over and squeeze until dead.

And since the Hawks power play is horrible, horrible, horrible, that puts more pressure on even-strength scores and leaves little room for drought periods by leading scorers such as Kane.

Kane has had a tremendous season, but not lately. He doesn't have a point in four straight games and just two goals in his last 15. He is still a plus-13, much better than he recorded last season with a minus-2, but Kane is a minus-8 since March 7, a month of stumbles for him and the Hawks.

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Niemi, Toews pull a win out of the hat in New Jersey with a great magic act

Let's look at it this way, because you can spin this diamond in the rough around and perceive it from a lot of different angles--some of them less than sparkling and some of them rough as a corncob when you cut right to the core.

This was playoff-style hockey, tight, patient and deliberate hockey where big moves are often overshadowed by the small, opportune play. And the Blackhawks found a very miniature hole to explode through and surprised New Jersey 2-1 in a shootout to save valuable face when it appeared they would go to that Easter's showdown with Calgary in Chicago with more gooey egg dripping from their mugs.

The furious finish erased a flat-footed start when the Devils could have easily raced to a 3-0 lead in the opening period and never looked back. The final push wiped out their frustrating offensive effort, but you can count right now on some frustrating offensive performances to come in the playoffs for Chicago and this could offer some solace that the Hawks can still overcome and squeak by when it appears they are going to get the short end of the stick stuck up their wazoo like a corncob.

Of course, there won't be a shootout come the postseason. But there will be artful, athletic and ambitious Antti Niemi, whose spectacular play in goal--again--hopefully is just an inkling of what's to come when the pressure intensifies for the inexperienced player in crunch time.

There were some rarities. No penalties in a NHL game for one, the first time for that in nine years. Nice to see a game move along as quickly as this one with no stoppages and really none of those bogus fights some hockey fans live for. This was chessboard hockey.

Also a rarity was that the Hawks usually outgun everyone. But the Devils outshot them 33-26 here, and it's quite interesting to note that 13 of those Chicago shots were from defensemen hacking away from afar and New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur easily handled most of those chances.

And while it didn't end up mattering, it remains a cause for concern that their offense isn't an attack as much as it's a methodical scramble at times. But again, playoff hockey sometimes is like that, where pretty isn't as significant as persistence.

Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Troy Brouwer had no shots. Patrick Kane had one. No rebounds came their way to penetrate Brodeur. It looked for a while like this would be good try, no positive results, which would have raised the anxiety level ever higher. No one needs moral victories to boost them with the postseason beckoning.

But coach Joel Quenneville pulled Niemi from net with 1:12 left and the extra attacker was really the difference. The Devils couldn't get the puck out high in their zone and the Hawks clogged the area, helped immensely by Marian Hossa punching the puck back into play. Hossa's innate ability to be Johnny-on-the-spot is one of his strengths.

Kris Versteeg got the handle on the puck after Hossa's timely assistance and flung a shot on goal and there was nitty-gritty, team MVP Toews fighting in front of the net. Toews didn't get a piece since the goal was handed to Versteeg, but this team captain was quite instrumental in the score getting tied 1-1 with 26 seconds left and showing who's really Johnny-on-the-spot.

Niemi was truly the player of the game, but Toews also earned a major piece of that honor. His opening shootout score past Brodeur's glove led the way to the win, and Niemi stopped three straight Devils to secure the decision, including that right pad rejection against  Zach Parise that was a gem.

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Toews is Blackhawks MVP, but center shortage may drag down Kane and team

Who's the Blackhawks Most Valuable Player this season?

To me, it's not their leading scorer. It's not their likely Norris Trophy winner as the NHL's best defenseman, your second leading scorer.

It has to be center Jonathan Toews. Take him away from top producer Patrick Kane, as coach Joel Quenneville has done recently, and Kane has a harder time scoring and simply creating opportunities.

Put Toews with Marian Hossa and the fleet-footed Slovakian has a better sounding board to play off than he has had all season with other partners. Both Hossa and Kane should have held out for contract clauses that allowed them to play only on Toews' line.

If Hossa throws that recent pass back to the slot for some former linemates, the puck either glances off a stick or doesn't find a stick. Toews, however, swooped perfectly down the middle and buried the chance in Minnesota and Hossa was happy to show how spectacular he can be with the right guys surrounding him.

That's how you keep a star happy. By letting him be a star, rather than somebody stuck playing just pretty good on occasion with lesser talents.

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It's Holy Shit Week on Blackhawks' calendar--start praying with passion

columbussharp.jpgIn times of personal crisis and unspeakable terror and nuclear rainfall such as this, I always ask myself: WWMD.

What Would Mike Do? No, not me. I'm talking here about that other Warped Weapon of Mass Destruction--Mad Mike Keenan.

We could always throw Denis Savard out of the team hotel, as Keenan once did during the playoffs, in order to get everybody else's attention.

I'm sure Savard would play along for old times sake in this passion play, part of his goodwill ambassador's gig as we come to Holy Shit Week in the Blackhawks calendar.

Then again, if coach Joel Quenneville updated that stage play and tossed Patrick Kane out of the team hotel, you most likely could find him at the strip joint down the street. So it may not have the desired effect it used to have.

We could always throw both Cristobal Huet and Antti Niemi to the ice from the 300 level at United Center, and whoever walks away is your postseason goalie. I believe that Ed Belfour would have survived such a biggest loser challenge and this goalie toss would be a hell of an interesting contest with fans interacting and in Roman Coliseum scream mode.

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Only nine biggest games of the season left for Blackhawks--standby for action

columbus.jpgGood weekend for all you busy fans to stock up the cupboards for the Blackhawks' push toward the playoffs with refreshments, snacks and razor blades.

Make sure to select the cutters with the embedded aloe vera so the slicing will be smooth as possible. No need to nick yourself before you die.

Just remember this, it's always darkest before the dawn, and I truly believe it's now dawned on the Hawks that Cristobal Huet is not the answer. Not this weekend. Not next weekend. Not next year. Not this century. Not in the afterlife.

Therefore, it's morning in America on West Madison Street.

Cockadoodle-do! Rise and shine. Forgive me while I go into my sunny song-and-dance, just one of my bad habits.

Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, what a wonderful day. It's the truth, it's actual, everything is satisfactual. Mister Bluebird's on my shoulder. Wonderful feeling, wonderful day.

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10 Blackhawks games left, 5 reasons to keep sweating playoffs

coyotes2-0.jpgNow you tell me exactly who wouldn't be cheering for a Washington-Blackhawks throwdown in the Stanley Cup finals? Talk about appealing to the casual sports fan, who pays attention more intensely whenever sex, blood, alcohol, hatred, divorce, sex, violence, machismo and personal honor is mixed into the spicy equation, a blend of Red Bull, Grey Goose and Jack Daniels (with just a light dash of Victoria's Secretions) being the perfect concoction to jolt mainstream America into believing hockey matters.

A Brian Campbell-Alex Ovechkin rematch would almost be as sexy as Tiger Woods being quite inventive and having a different mistress caddy for him each day of the Masters. He kills two big birds with one stone here, silencing his critics who say he's a chauvinist pig by pissing on women outside his sex dreams by making his return at a course where women have been less welcome for decades than a dose of clap and confronting his sex demons with the proof that he can play a round with women without dropping his pants or texting them with illicit suggestions that can curl even a porn star's toenails.

See, Elin, I'm cured. It's a miracle. I can walk on two legs again instead of three. The ratings will be through the roof, so hockey masters take note and have the NHL officials just fix it so we have our own alluring tabloid takedown to suck in the many addicts who have yet to follow Tiger into rehab, but will gladly follow him on TV and will switch on with similar bloodlust in their hearts if the Hawks and Capitals offer the promise of no holds barred and some sweet sexy revenge.

I'm not sure Campbell and Ovechkin would get it on quite the same way in front of so many eager onlookers. But I wouldn't be surprised if somebody shed some clothing, blood flowed and there were a few group gropes of male bonding at its finest. And whether we have your average Canadian kicking the shit out of a Russian or your average American doing so, the North American TV audience always loves Boris getting knocked on his ass and planting the flag into Alex's thick, brutish skull would be TMZ-approved fanfare.

This scenario even beats Rocky Wirtz's contention that Ovechkin (fractured backbone) should be sitting out as long as Campbell (fractured clavicle). Throw them both into the snake pit with everything on the line and let's see who bites whom and where?

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Crisis in the heartland for Blackhawks, but we're still Homers

homer_the_scream.jpgFrom this point, with 11 regular season games remaining for the Blackhawks, it's all about heart. Theirs and ours.

What does your heart tell you? That the Hawks' recent slide is indicative of an early exit come the playoffs? That our Stanley Cup hopes were a house of cards without enough aces to trump our burgeoning woes or that Marian Hossa is Slovakian for "hopeless championship wanderer."

Or, in plain Chicago-style English, wait 'til next year.

Or perhaps your brave heart tells you that this team is experiencing a rare letdown at an inopportune juncture, but it is nonetheless a temporary lapse with defensive fundamentals and a benign tumor rather than a fatal, five-alarm lesion.

And you recognize that our fear of falling has been further heightened too keenly by that itchy scar tissue left from the injuries to defensemen Brent Seabrook, Brian Campbell and Kim Johnsson? Raising nightmares of who's next?

Here's what my heart tells me, when I feed it a quarter like a meter to wake it up and be chatty as Edgar Allen Poe's Telltale Heart, where the narrator only thinks he's sane.

The Blackhawks are still good enough to go deep, deep, deep into the playoffs. And with a little luck and some favorable bounces, all the way.

Homers R Us. So I propose our playoff mascot should be Homer Simpson, a man to lean on.

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Blackhawks stop the bleeding and losing, crowning Kings 3-0

kings.jpgAfter losing a key defenseman in each of their last two games, the bleeding stopped for the Blackhawks in a 3-0 victory Thursday night in Los Angeles.

After losing their previous three games, experiencing the slightest of slumps (maybe just a slipup would be the better term), the freefall stopped just past midnight Chicago time with a lot of the city asleep and unaware the Hawks had righted the ship and should be under sail soon again with a stiff breeze at their backs as one of the main Stanley Cup favorites.

Well, Chicagoans weren't the only ones snoozing. So were the slumbering Kings, who were held to minimal shots. Between Los Angeles' last shot in the first period and their first shot in the second period, 16 minutes, 39 seconds ticked away with the Hawks' usual strong puck possession on cruise control and the Kings looking more lackluster the longer the game dragged on.

If the Hawks can finish the trip west with a solid win Saturday night in Phoenix, where those Coyotes are howling like seldom before, it will have ended with plenty of controversy and lots of wounds to heal, but an upbeat return to Chicago to get ready for the final push toward the playoffs.

Antti Niemi wasn't sorely tested at any point with the shot difference a stark 37-17 in this game, but he came away with his fifth shutout of the season. That's good enough to have him retain his status as the current No. 1 goalie until we see something completely different out of Cristobal Huet, who may not have enough time left to go on a roll in the regular season.

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Seabrook, Wisniewski friendship gets blindsided in NHL's best tradition

anaheim.jpgI guess my favorite quote is where James Wisniewski pleads his not guilty case for having blood on his hands, claiming this purest of accidents can't be true.

He insists that he and Brent Seabrook are old buddies, real close pals, and implies by suggesting this bond: "Would I do this to a friend of mine?"

Right there is the problem wrapped up rather neatly in a 5-pound bag of shit.

Yep, Wisniewski would and did, giving a broader meaning to friendship than I have ever personally witnessed.

Oh, there certainly have been such fickle friends, people like Caesar and Brutus, like Dillinger and the lady in Blackhawks' red, like Cain and Abel, like Blagojevich and Obama, like Tallon and McDonough.

The Ducks defenseman, formerly of Chicago, came charging a long way to hit (maybe better to say smack, hammer, crush or maim) Seabrook with a shot to the head when he wasn't looking, when he didn't have the puck, and when his old buddy was least expecting such a howdy, partner, it's me.

He blindsided him out of the blue when he was behind the net in the second period, even leaving his skates to shout hello like a labrador greeting a juicy bone--all so old buddy Wisniewski could win a game by making a resounding point for a wavering team that probably won't make the playoffs.

Welcome to the NHL, where the occasional felony assault may draw a slap on the wrist every so often in games, but primarily is applauded and a sought-after talent.

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In a perverse way, Campbell's loss can be Blackhawks' gain

campbellhurt.jpgIn a perverse way, and I majored in perversion at Loyola and later got a doctorate, losing Brian Campbell for the season can help to refocus the Blackhawks.

Now, I'm not saying they are better off without the defenseman. They surely would be better off without his $7.14 million a year salary, but no good reason to mix money and perversion or else the Madhouse On Madison would be just another whorehouse along the boulevard.

I'm saying it has been pretty obvious for a short time now that the Hawks needed a wakeup to reassess their priorities as they prepare for the playoffs. There have been letdowns in some aspects of their game that they have constantly decried and yet not repaired. Time to quit talking and start applying what players have cited as necessary to be whole again.

So how better to convince them to take some personal, overdue inventory and admit to these persistent shortages that require an immediate fix than to rip out the fixture of Campbell being there game-in, game-out. His presence will be missed more than his numbers. Comfort factors are nice, but many teams have learned to adjust when cushions turn to stone.

And let's look at what we are losing, both hard fact and emotional influence.

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Blackhawks suffer a serious groin problem for a second straight setback

I told you he had Dostoevsky eyes. But for his crime, Washington's Alex Ovechkin paid his punishment. His first-period game misconduct, however, was no match for the Blackhawks' game misconduct.

I told you yesterday the Hawks had a mental bruise from which they might struggle for a while to recover. I was premature. Their piss-poor attitude at crunch time is now on injured reserve and upgraded to possibly a season-ending blow to their ego.

Make that a serious groin pull, not a mental bruise. This was a weekend when the Blackhawks were kicked in the balls and showed they couldn't get it up when required. Time to see if they have the gonads to recover or if everyone needs to start medicating on Viagra.

If I were them, I'd give back the one point earned. They don't deserve it.

For two straight days, the Hawks were third-period disasters. Difference was, they brought a 3-0 lead against Washington into Sunday's debacle.

Here's the similarity, just as the Flyers scored three in the third Saturday in Philadelphia to win 3-2 with 2 seconds left in regulation, the Capitals scored three in the third Sunday at the United Center to tie 3-3 and win 4-3 in overtime on Nicklas Backstrom's goal.

Defenseman Brent Seabrook overcommitted to his right as Backstrom moved in the opposite direction and headed toward the goal. He beat Antti Niemi between the legs, a different attack than Backstrom made to pull the Caps within 3-2 by beating Dave Bolland's defense to punch the puck by Niemi for the all-important momentum changer in the third period.

Here's also the similarity between the Flyers and the Capitals. When the Hawks thought the games were won, they didn't finish. How do you think that's going to work in the postseason?

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Blackhawks sucker punched by two late Flyers goals, lose 3-2

flyers.jpgThere has been many a sucker punch thrown on the hard streets of Philadelphia. And it might take the Blackhawks a while to recover from Saturday afternoon's unexpected knockdown.

Beating Washington Sunday afternoon on NBC at United Center could partly salve the wound. But this 3-2 loss should leave a mental bruise that doesn't subside easily, because it provides an important lesson with the playoffs within hailing distance that as good as they are, there is always the painful possibility the Hawks can be shocked and tossed carelessly aside if they don't attend to business.

Some defeats sting. Some defeats annoy like a hangnail. Some defeats are oh-so-whats. But this defeat with two seconds on the clock, the second of two goals Philly scored in the final 2 minutes, 4 seconds, was a fierce blow to the Hawks' usually invincible ego, a crippling fumble after it appeared Marian Hossa's sharp-shooting wrister from high in the right circle for the 2-1 edge--permitting the Hawks their first lead of the game--would carry the day.

Cristobal Huet deserved better. He played well, but will step aside in frustration for Antti Niemi to face the Capitals in their personal puckoff, with the burden of giving up a tying goal to Scott Hartnell as the clock ticked to almost two minutes left and then a goal to Chris Pronger, who finished off an odd-man rush with too many Hawks caught flatfooted in the Flyers zone and every bit as much helpless witnesses to the final disaster as you and me at home.

Pronger was not even being defended as Claude Giroux's pass from the right side found the weak-side defenseman staring into a wide open net left of the crease as he beat the clock, beat Huet and beat down Chicago's confidence that it always knows how to manage the clock and the situation. Here, they seemed to stop to wait for overtime, but never found themselves able to recover and lost a chance to salvage one point.

The Hawks were sickened by having to swallow their own medicine, burned by quick and lengthy passes out of the Flyers end that resulted in rapid attacks the other way. That is suppose to be Chicago's playbook, but Philly swiped it here and used it effectively.

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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.

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Time for Blackhawks' wise men to wise up--prepare Niemi for playoffs

niemikings.jpgThe Blackhawks become more of a legitimate news story every day. You can tell by all the crazy shit that suddenly surrounds them.

The latest affirmation that the Blackhawks have ascended to mainstream meaningfulness is a fuss about a Detroit blogger condemning their fans cheering during the national anthem. It rates right there in competition for the non-story of the year with Milton Bradley being a pissed-off dude.

Like herpes, the occasional eruption calls for all sorts of treatment, even if there is no cure and everyone knows it's going to flare up endlessly. Doesn't mean you have to shine a flashlight on it every time and run your hands through the pus like a puss.

The media actually likes non-stories, because they can show righteous indignation and huff and puff to their heart's content about nothing. It's all false controversy, because there is no amount of analysis and commentary that is going to deter the United Center songbirds from being the original American idols and Uncle Miltie will continue to be one pissed-off dude until they shut the coffin lid and quench his odorous sizzle of bandaid racism with a comparable stench of formaldehyde.

But when you are metaphorically asked to take a seat in the back of the bus, which is what drives Uncle Miltie and the blogger to scream out inane insults in order to be heard, hard feelings feed right into the media's hands, soft as the reality of their case really is in terms of being a credible complaint. Never forget the media is driving that bus, believing the bully pulpit is what their customers want to hear.

So who am I to disrupt the vast media empire playbook? I can beat a dead horse better than Willie Shoemaker did. Tally-ho, all of you over-saturated goaltending critics and skeptics and fellow blowhards. (Because just ask Hawks president John McDonough, who sees blowhards and bloggers as being one and reserves the right for his team to acknowledge only official blowhards at established blowhard outlets).

Time to say goodbye to the goalie controversy. Time to draw a line in the sand and squish your Indianhead-painted toes to one side of the quicksand issue or the other.

Therefore, I declare it is time for coach Joel Quenneville to prepare Antti Niemi to be his postseason goalie. That means, if Niemi has a bad game, a bad period, a bad hangover, a bad nightmare, a bad tooth, a bad bottle of wine, a bad cheese steak in Philly this weekend--a bad anything--he still gets clear preference over Cristobal Huet from here on.

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Happy anniversary! It's been one year since a Blackhawks' slump

I love these hard times with the Blackhawks. Reminds me of when a Rockefeller was forced to skip lunch for a day, because his Rolls Royce went flat in the country and he had to settle for some leftover foie gras and warm chardonnay in the backseat picnic basket while waiting for his limo to show up and save him from the mosquitoes.

For all you young hockey players out there that think the Blackhawks are struggling, please pick up a history book. Going 2-2 since Olympic break, 6-2 for their last 8 games and 8-4-1 over their last 13 isn't exactly a sign this talented squad is going broke and soon will be destitute and down on their luck when the postseason arrives.

I figure it's an opportune moment to take an overdue detour from adding to the plethora of doom-and-gloom and point out what we like about these Blackhawks now and for the playoffs. But that's just me, always accused of being too cheery and optimistic and just downright Pollyanna far too often. Sorry for the constant sunshine.

Speaking of Pollyanna, I suppose you can blame my upbeat mood for at least one day on our newest addition to this Kiley clan. Mark and his wife, Amy, welcomed Cailin Elizabeth--who weighed in at 8 pounds and 1 ounce on Tuesday morning--to the scrum. Last month it was our youngest son Jeff and his wife, Jill, who contributed to our burgeoning ranks now of seven grandchildren (six granddaughters) by introducing Georgia Helen.

I'm telling you, at Blackhawks Confidential, we go to any lengths to swell our readership and line our pockets and we damn well know women are taking over the world, so we're ahead of the curve on that one. I still got their dads' old hockey sticks in my garage, so it is good to know the girls' Christmas presents are ready and waiting for them as soon as I get the spiderwebs off them.

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The Fifth Feather cancels its Huet endorsement, net result of inadequate play

Well, I suspect it's curtains and black crepe now for Cristobal Huet. The Fifth Feather has cancelled its endorsement contract with the Blackhawks goaltender, washed him away as if he was Tiger Woods being informed by Gatorade that he didn't quench anybody's thirst for clean living and good family fun and so take your disgraced putter elsewhere.

That's the biggest news I have seen come out of Sunday's ass-itching 5-4 loss to Detroit, a setback that makes you squirm just a little too much for comfort, as if a gerbil or a mousy goalie has managed to crawl up your butt during turbulence at 30,000 feet and the seat belt you have used for reasonable restraint all season is starting to pinch as you heave-ho.

I guess you can debate all the numbers and whether Tiger Woods screwed more mistresses than Huet has screwed his Chicago fans, but the FF is fed up and after preaching patience to all us nervous nellies the FF in Monday's ethereal edition of the top thinking-man's Blackhawks blog comes real close to telling Huet to go FO.

I'm trusting all of my savvy readers on this no-thinking-man's blog know what FO means when the FF drops the feather and goes for the hammer. Simply refer back to Woods and his secret holes-in-one for clarification if you have not graduated with dishonor yet from choirboy or choirgirl school.

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Blackhawks, Ladd debate meaning of cowardice with Vancouver and dole out a spanking 6-3

All those people who tuned in and turned on to the Olympic goal medal game should have been watching Friday night's first period at United Center. The Blackhawks deserved their attention.

It was really better than Team Canada-Team USA for my money. There was classic hockey and flashy hockey and griity hockey and smart hockey and bad goals and good goals and old-time hate and modern-day courage.

Andrew Ladd was your master of ceremonies. He laughed off being called a coward weeks back by Vancouver's Ryan Kesler, fallout from their personal run-ins.

But he wasn't laughing when he made sure to pay Mr. Kesler a visit just shortly after the game began, deciding the Canucks needed to know it's not exactly true only sticks and stones can break your bones, while names will never hurt you.

Ladd and Kesler didn't have much of a tussle, because officials were ready for the pair to square off and quickly jumped in to seperate them, but I think we have to thank Ladd for refusing to beat around the bush. He set the combative, surly tone and his teammates eagerly followed, turning a physical first period into a 5-1 lead after 20 minutes.

The rest was bookkeeping as the Hawks put a 6-3 licking on Vancouver that showed one thing after some spotty play in the first two games after the Olympics. When the Hawks really want to turn it on, they can go from trickle to flood in the wink of an eye.

These guys aren't just a hockey team. They are entertainers. They are so entertaining we dearly miss it when they aren't, which is sometimes why so much pressure falls on these guys to play at their peak all the time rather than just some of the time.

I consider that healthy pressure with fans demanding the best, because they have seen it repeatedly and will settle for nothing less.

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Blackhawks must hire Belfour to show Huet how to talk smack, kick butt

huetedmonton.jpgCristobal Huet plays the game off the ice worse than he does on the ice. He does everything he can to portray himself as a no-account loser.

It is about the only thing he does that is working well for him, and so he has a lot of us convinced that he's a no-account loser who fails to have the inner fire and needed edge to even tell the media and his many skeptics among Blackhawks fans to go to hell.

Now how hard can that be? Kiss my ass. Three easy words. Huet just can't muster enough mustard to make a brief colorful speech that would win him more followers than he knows at the same time it would hearten his current supporters, who just held their monthly meeting in the last existing phone booth on earth.

Way to go, Cris. You are very persuasive as the small, silent type. Many of us buy the act that you're bound and determined to drag all of Chicago's hopes to hell and give us all an imperturbable brave face doing it, if not an impervious brave heart.

How about a few genuine emotions from time to time, just so we can tell you are human and have a motive and maybe an engine that can kick into a higher gear than we have ever seen and maybe something funny to say once or twice every year or two?

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Help cure cancer while monitoring Cristobal Huet death watch

hockeenight.jpgThe gossipsphere sure seems awfully quiet if Tuesday really is a day of civic celebration in Chicago and goaltender Cristobal Huet is in his final hours before being shipped to a place that appreciates a tasty escargot, a misunderstood morsel which is never filling and leaves you always wanting more.

See, in France, the food and the man are like one.

I know because my maternal grandmother hailed from the Alsace-Lorraine region, where a mix of French and German should have been the breeding ground for a lot of NHL goons. Alas, no such positive structure to the violence there, where storm troopers didn't garner the same laughs as decades later in "Star Wars."

The French international team is on a worse roll than Huet, not qualifying to play with the big boys in men's hockey since 2002, the year they finished 14th. That's why you might have noticed Huet and his fellow Huguenots (history lessons are good for your soul) were missing from that recent renaissance of hockey in the Olympics, an enlightening era likely to last maybe 5 to 6 minutes, so don't blink.

And just because Huet was again missing in action and kept his seat Tuesday night on Long Island to watch Andy Niemi make his fifth straight start, some Blackhawks fans figure Huet won't qualify for another Stanley Cup run and will soon leave the cap-crunched club almost debt free by being traded by Wednesday's deadline for either Florida's Tomas Vokoun or any available goaltending savior to be named (and defamed) later.

(I should add that Vokoun is a sizeable debt problem similar to Huet, so how this comes out in the wash is anybody's guess. We'll wait to examine the money laundering if it happens.)

In other words, you have a little time to kill while waiting for your championship hopes to be stirred, shaken or shattered. So I have a suggestion. Lend your glove hand in wiping out cancer.

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Take your Blackhawks' semester quiz right here--cheating allowed

As we cross our fingers and hope for all our boys to come home from the wars in Vancouver without a scratch, either from the foes at the Olympic games or the females at the after parties, time to reflect on where we have been this Blackhawks season and where we are heading.

Since the positives far outweigh the negatives, taking February inventory is mostly a fun task, not nearly as taxing as the other IRS accounting we will soon need to have.

It heightens our anticipation to resume the NHL tug-of-war as soon as possible, because the good guys are great, great, great for a change, instead of another tiresome snow job in the waning of a dogged Chicago winter that always refuses to quit plenty more times than Brett Favre ever did.

After being subjected to having my tongue sewn together Sunday night at the emergency room after losing a wrestling match with my attack dog (although I suspect my wife may have been giving her secret hand signals), I have chosen to wag the dog rather than just my tongue to take your focus off whether our boys kill each other off in the Olympics, as Team USA seeks fame and Team Canada engages in some nerve-wracking Russian Roulette Wednesday night.

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Olympic hockey celebrates imprisonment in backwater streets of MSNBC

I see where hockey is being deemed relevant again by NBC, since an announced 8.22 million viewers clawed their way through the cable bushes and brambles, hiked their way upward on their direction-finder remotes, swam downstream through the swamp of programming aimed at women, men, kids, sexual deviants, guilt-ridden Christians, zoned-out addicts and forlorn couch potatoes of all shapes, sizes and obsessions and finally landed smack on MSNBC.

Or as Sarah Palin calls it, hell on earth.

The NBC peacock is out in full force, trumpeting the fact Team USA's victory against Team Canada elicited such a throaty response from a population considered to be largely anemic when it comes to cozying up to hockey. But if NBC thought hockey was first-rate and would attract a patriotic crowd eager to see those dastardly Canadians shot down and inflict an extra dose of depression on a people perpetually divided by two languages and linked only via their frosty umbilical cord that attaches them to the North Pole and a genealogy that extends all the way to Santa's work shop elves, why wasn't that good 'ol hockey game, the best game I can name, on the real NBC?

Simple. (See, I can write a short sentence).

TV executives, be they national, regional or on your neighborhood watch list of convicted pedophiles, hate hockey. And I don't see that ever changing, keeping hockey both enslaved and confined to the dungeon of TVWasteLand and let out for an occasional free day whenever the bosses feel generous enough to allow the sport an inkling of exposure. In the case of MSNBC, they figure they can live with one night of hockey replacing their crown jewel of entertainment and ratings: Lockup.

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Unchallenged trade rumors tell us the Blackhawks don't trust Huet, either

So I'm watching Team Canada Dry, a perfect commercial tie-in, freeze up Sunday night in the Olympics and I'm thinking the Blackhawks are next. Misery loves company and all that and no matter how far Cristobal Huet has traveled during the Olympic break, he won't be shocked to learn people still get confused easily over the Chicago goalies and think his first name is Anti, because who isn't Anti Huet and who hasn't stewed up their own favorite Hawks' goalie trade rumor in the past week just to stay fashionable?

There is an elephant in the room and this time it's not me. I don't know much, but I know a championship is not won with elephants in the room and I now have serious doubts whether we will be sipping from Cinderella's slipper in a few months in Chicago, or whether it will be business as usual and slurps straight from the bottle neck as we debate whether Stan Bowman should have dumped Huet or kept Huet or drowned Huet in the bath tub when no one was paying attention to this cat, fixated on hearing a Tiger apologize for what we all would have done if only we'd had the same damn chance to jump in the saddle and ride, baby, ride into the sunset.

I'm not sure if the persistent trade rumors, which cagey GM Bowman has seen fit not to deny loudly--oblivious to giving Huet a rest when he isn't working--mean that people trust Antti Niemi and his unproven record, really distrust Huet and his unproven record, or just desire any divorce to shake up their boredom and wonder if they can live happily ever after with a pickup to be named later and his unproven record.

So we have been subjected in recent weeks to a series of blind dates with Marty Turco and Tomas Vokoun and Ty Conklin and....hell, why not throw in Marty Brodeur, who may as well be available considering he is dragging down the loonie in Canada much faster than Huet's slow slide in some hearts and minds has seized hold of Chicago's choking salary cap and steadily throttled it faster than you can say Drew Peterson strikes again.

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Blackhawks have many personal highs in sight after Olympic break

brouwerbreak.jpgAlready it's been a season like none other for most Blackhawks.

There are 21 games remaining in the regular season and 21 is our lucky number. We have two 21-year-olds in Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, who have us believing this will be a year for the ages, young and old and eternal.

Patrick Kane has 25 goals in 61 games, same as he had last season in 80 games. He owns the club high of 67 points, three short of his 2008-09. History will be made immediately after the Olympic break and Kane will move onward and upward in writing his legend.

He needs 33 points for a 100-point season, and while that's likely out of reach, Kane will have us imagining anything's possible as he and the Hawks push to be at their finest for a pressure-packed postseason.

Toews missed several games with a concussion, but his 30 assists in 55 games leave him just five assists short of matching last season's output. As Kane becomes increasingly dangerous as a goal scorer, Toews' assist totals shoot skyward as well and so a personal best figures to come his way, too.

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Blackhawks continue to win ugly, beating Atlanta 5-4 in shootout

Blackhawks broadcaster Pat Foley was so unfamiliar with Andy Niemi starting in goal for a third straight game, he mentioned three times within a couple minutes that it was Cristobal Huet holding the fort in the first period Saturday night against Atlanta at United Center.

So what we learned was that it matters not whether it's Huet or Niemi when the team isn't totally focused on the business at hand. The Blackhawks gave up a two-goal lead with a terrible second period, falling behind 4-3 and setting themselves up for a letdown.

 But for the second straight game, Niemi was great in the shooutout and the Hawks escaped with a lucky 5-4 shootout win. Niemi stopped all five shots in his previous shootout effort. This time Niemi only needed to stop the first three Thrashers as Jonathan Toews scored first in the shootout to provide the margin of victory.

Marian Hossa was driven from the ice by a Colby Armstrong check to his left shoulder and head. We'll have to see how serious it is and whether Hossa can play for Slovakia during the Olympics. It doesn't appear to be super serious, but we'll see about that, too.

Dave Bolland scored for the first time in his five games since returning from back surgery. That third-period goal, when Bolland stayed patient on goalie Ondrey Pavelec and carried a play past him before jamming the puck into an open net, evened the score at 4. Atlanta got fixated on the puck coming down the right side and left Bolland free on the left side and the Hawks often find the open man when that happens.

Pavelec, however, was sensational in the third period and overtime. The Hawks pressured him enough that they should have beaten either in regulation or overtime. Just shows how hard it is to win when you let a team back in the game and try to turn on your aggression again.

You can argue the Hawks dominated play much of the game. But unless they give a full effort, it shows again that winning isn't very easy for them when they pick and choose when they are going to pay attention.

As long as they win this way, though, they are going to think that's enough.

"They are not showing their true quickness," WGN analyst Steve Konroyd said during the second intermission.

In other words, using plainer language, they were floating, figuring half-speed was enough to take out the Trash.  Bad call and another example of how the Hawks have been trying for a while to get by with half-measures.

They can't continue these bad habits after the Olympic break.

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Barker traded to Minnesota as Blackhawks fail with a first-rounder

barkertrade.jpgLet's look back at the 2004 NHL draft and how it has affected the current state of affairs.

Washington takes forward Alexander Ovechkin No. 1. Not too bad, perched for a Stanley Cup bid this year.

Pittsburgh takes forward Evgeni Malkin No. 2. Not too bad, seeking to repeat as Cup champs.

Chicago takes defenseman Cam Barker No. 3. Not too hot, as it turns out, especially when the Capitals had three first-round picks and used the final one lower down to select defenseman Mike Green, who has 58 points (27 on the power play) to Barker's 14 points (6 on the power play).

While coach Joel Quenneville teased us the last couple days with the prospect of putting Barker back at the point more regularly on the power play this weekend, it turns out that Barker's shrinking ice time was really more the point all along.

The Hawks did what had long been expected and traded him Friday afternoon before the NHL froze their rosters heading into the Olympic break. Barker goes to Minnesota in return for defenseman Kim Johnsson and a prospect in Nick Leddy, who was a first-round pick for the Wild in 2009.

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Niemi shoots for the hat trick Saturday, but our goalie debate beats Washington's net loss

niemiblues.jpgWould you rather be the Chicago Blackhawks or the Washington Capitals? Pick your preferred poision, because both teams kill off the opposition in different ways.

Just six points seperates these possible Stanley Cup foes at the top of the NHL standings. But there are key contrasts and similarities between them in many categories.

Through Thursday's games, the Capitals had the second worst goals-against average at 2.8 of the league's top 15 teams. Only one worse was Pittsburgh (2.87), the defending champs. That should be further proof that this could be the year the Hawks break through at long last.

The Blackhawks have the best GAA in the league at 2.25, but we can't quit arguing in Chicago over whether Andy Niemi should play over Cristobal Huet or if any title chances we may have will be ruined if Huet is the go-to goalie for the playoffs.

The debate rages on with coach Joel Quenneville's decision on Friday to start Niemi for a third straight game Saturday against Atlanta. If Niemi does well and wins a third straight while facing the punchless, clueless Thrashers, whose defense is non-existent, does he get the start again Sunday against Columbus in the final game before the Olympic break?

Or would we be sending Huet to a couple weeks of mental anguish over what his role is on the team? Does Huet have to get the start Sunday regardless of whether Niemi wins or not? Do we need to need to call Huet's therapist and have him rinkside if Niemi rolls to four straight wins?

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Hello, world, here comes Patrick Kane--waving the flag and the party hat

kaneolympics.jpgBelieve it or not, the world doesn't know Patrick Kane. Damn shortsighted and parochial of the world, isn't it?

Well, planet earth is about to get a rude awakening from our bouncing baby Blackhawk, once an endangered species, and the next ripple you hear in Chicago won't be an earthquake.

It will be Kane's introduction to mankind, which still might register on the Richter Scale, where 5 or 6 or however many goals could shake up his fluid reputation again and heighten his profile.

Starting next week, after two more games this weekend in the NHL with the Blackhawks, Kane skates onto the slippery slope and into the heady aura of a world stage when Team USA opens the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver by playing Switzerland at 2 p. m. (Chicago time) Tuesday and begins the preliminary rounds.

Then it's Kane against Norway next Thursday and battling his buddy Jonathan Toews, as well as teammates Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, Sunday Feb. 21 when Team USA gets their shot to stun everyone, including themselves, by playing Team Canada and facing up to luminaries such as Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby.

That's a 6:45 p. m. prime time showdown (Chicago time) a week from Sunday. Don't miss it. Kane might arrive on the scene all over again, emerging as an international icon.

After Feb. 21 and Kane's big date with Canada, it's anybody's guess. Trekking slowly home, still an unknown to the world at large, or bound for glory?

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Huet should survive Turco trade rumors to Blackhawks and stay in goal

turco.jpgThe rumors, true or not, are bound to start circulating now about the possibility of the Blackhawks looking into a trade for Stars goalie Marty Turco, the guy they beat Tuesday night 4-3 in a shootout.

In fact, it was mentioned on ESPN.com in a blog posting Wednesday between reporters Pierre LeBrun and Scott Burnside. Turco surely looks expendable in Dallas after GM Joe Nieuwendyk acquired goalie Kari Lehtonen from Atlanta Tuesday in a trade.

But would Turco be an upgrade over Cristobal Huet? I don't see how.

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Blackhawks' power play same ol' crash for clunkers, but does it matter?

sharpdallas.jpgSo you think the Blackhawks power play is going to dramatically improve down the stretch? Why?

What possible reason could there be to believe that?

It is what it was. If you see a way they are going to turn it around, I'd like to hear from you. Otherwise, it doesn't figure if you look at the figures.

Last year, their power play produced a 19.3 success ratio (tied for 11th in the league) and they managed to battle and claw their way into the Western Conference finals before losing to Detroit, the NHL's top power play last season at 25.2.

Some things don't change. This year the Chicago power play is once again clicking at the very same 19.3 per cent, a rather eerie repeat of 2008-09.

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Kane's two goals and Versteeg's shootout winner allow Blackhawks to escape a close call against Dallas

If Patrick Kane scores twice, you really shouldn't lose.

In fact, if Kane scores a goal at all, the Blackhawks seldom come up short. They are now 17-4 this season when Kane has managed a goal, so the kid is steadily developing into much more than a nifty passer.

Kane scores and he usually pulls his team along with him to bigger and better.

But no matter how you break it down, Tuesday night's 4-3 shootout win over Dallas was a struggle. The Hawks avoided a setback at United Center by a fraction when the Stars actually beat Andy Niemi with a shot redirected into the net just after time expired in overtime.

That kind of close shave should remind them how much they didn't deserve to win here and how they really got lucky in squeezing through all the various lapses in the end.

Defenseman Duncan Keith put the Hawks on their heels in overtime with a hooking penalty. But Niemi played especially well during this vulnerable spot, just as he played well again during what would be a perfect shootout for him.

Niemi stopped all five Stars that came at him in the shooutout, although James Neal kissed the post with a shot for another close call that could have gone the other way.

After Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa all missed in facing Marty Turco, Kris Versteeg shook off what has been a long offensive drought with no goals in 13 games and scored between Turco's legs to win the shootout.

The Hawks hadn't won at home since Jan. 14 against Columbus. It wasn't all pretty. It wasn't without a lot of defensive letdowns and offensive frustrations.

But a shootout win is better than what easily could have been a loss either in regulation or overtime. The Hawks shouldn't be too happy, though, because it's apparent they are going into the Olympic break stumbling at times and staggering on occasion and looking for that special form that had them so dominant earlier this season.

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Microscrope probes take their toll on the Blackhawks, especially Huet

toewsblues.jpgEverybody hates the media. And why not? It may be the world's only true common bond.

No segment I know of has a larger group of second-guessing, third-rate assholes who would never sanction the efficacy of an onside kick to start the second half (until after knowing it worked). I'm proud (sort of) to be a vagabond alumnus of the group of constantly scorned scribes and scurrilous screechers, just another awardless, scum-breeding bottom feeder that sucks on like a prized doofus.

There, I feel better coming clean like that, confessing my lifelong affinity for playing in the dirt like a 4-year-old. Even assholes have feelings. As long as you probe deep enough.

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Barker plays Incredible Shrinking Man, raising Blackhawks' trade rumors

barkercat.jpgI wonder if Blackhawks defenseman Cam Barker has thought to check up on himself in the mirror lately.

Jersey seem too big? Does his image appear smaller? Has his stick become the size of a toothpick? Could his skates be donated to Toys for Tots?

Yep, just as I suspected. Barker has become the Incredible Shrinking Man. I saw the same thing happen in 1957 when Scott Carey was the protagonist in the film that played on our cold-war fear of nuclear holocaust, although as a loyal Three Stooges fan I enjoyed some good-humored violence and a stray ICBM strike to the chops now and then.

A little fear is healthy. Otherwise, there would have been no possible reason to keep us practicing hiding under our desks for that day at St. Mary's when Uncle Joe sent Uncle Sam the red-hot payload and we found after hours of prayer to our Father our kingdoms had come and gone in that mother of all battles.

Let's get back to the film, mousketeers. One minute Scott Carey is boating along in sunny Cal minding his own business and relaxing, waiting for the missus to mix some drinks, and then before you can say "keep your shirt on, Kaner," Scott is contaminated by radioactive pesticides from a passing cloud and shrinking fast.

Sound at all familiar, Cam? It could have been the sushi in Columbus to start the 8-game trip. Because while you were gone, you managed 1 point on an assist, a plus-1 in four of these games and a minus-3 for Vancouver that almost wiped you out, and left you creeping closer to zero hour.

For whom does the bell toll? It tolls for thee, Mr. Barker. Your hour of accountability is at hand with the team returning home for Wednesday night's game against St. Louis. Time to quit making the donut holes on your scoresheet.

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Blackhawks lose in the end, but maybe it's not worth talking about

Every so often you have to eat a shit sandwich.

How that's for  a cogent analysis of a 4-2 loss to Carolina Saturday night?

It was a great 8-game trip, all in all. But I will leave it to our loyal analysts to tell me how they viewed it.

As for me, I need a few more martinis to wash out the bad taste of this game. Shit happens. It doesn't ruin what was an impressive journey if you take the long perspective.

But I'm going to wimp out and leave it to others to explain the big picture. Because the small picture sucks right now.

Jump right in and help me out. I'm seldom at a loss for words. But I have to go to church Sunday and all the words I can think of won't help me have a peaceful interlude with the Lord.

So I turn over the rough stuff to you. In fact, I might enter a monastery if every Blackhawks' game was like this.

Come on home, boys, and we'll make it right. Peace be with you.

Blackhawks give perennial West fav San Jose many reasons to rethink their status

sharksjan28.jpgHere's my favorite stat from Thursday night's immensely satisfying performance against San Jose: Patrick Marleau, 0 shots from 23 minutes, 27 seconds on the ice.

Instead of Marley's Ghost issuing his dire warning to Scrooge, it was those puck-pinching Blackhawks who warned the ghost of Marleau's goal-scoring past that he better think again before believing he and San Jose can really be considered Western Conference favorites as long as Chicago is around to chill their offense.

As often as the Sharks swarmed and threatened to overpower the Blackhawks, how does this happen? How does a top gun become a no-show on that scoresheet in a classic game in which these rattled Sharks fired plenty of ammunition at Cristobal Huet and didn't lose 4-3 for lack of trying and pounding and beseiging the net.

Let me embellish. That would be NHL goal-scoring leader Marleau, who couldn't add to his magnificent 35 goals this year and had managed a barrage of 189 shots in his previous 53 games for one of the top shooting percentages around. Marleau had an assist to avoid being totally shut down, but so what?

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Blackhawks need to clean up their act on trip's tail end with focus and heart

If the Blackhawks lose Thursday night to San Jose in California, and I don't believe we need to take a poll to know the Sharks are the big favorites, the general consensus will chalk it up to the tail end of an 8-game trip. And I do mean tail end in all its plumed, imaginative glory.

I think you know what I'm talking about, you sly dog Patrick Kane, who often can never be neutralized on ice and certainly will never be in danger of being neutered off skates. But listen up here cheese whiz kid (whiz-bam-than-you-mam, say cheese and look right into that camera), I'm calling you and the boys out.

If the Hawks go down to the Sharks, sports cliches win again. And damn, do I hate those hard-to-kill sports cliches after living with them so long--and writing more than a few million. They haunt my sleep, pursued by adjectives, adverbs, and nouns that could have saved the day.

To me, the Hawks have to batter the Sharks again to unsettle San Jose's pacific plan of superiority.

And, just as importantly to me, so I don't have to hear it had to happen this way, the boys on the bus being bushed and all. What with laying around limos, laying around hotel rooms, hounded unmercilessly by bartenders, being chased to the ends of the earth (or to the far reaches of Stanley Park in Vancouver) by hordes of admirers, the road is hell.

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Let's all get it off our chests as the Blackhawks soar toward first 50-win regular season

hjalmarrsonedmonton.jpgThe Blackhawks are sitting pretty: be it in lush limos (and I do mean lush, as in sloppy drunk with eyes aglow), with the lavender ladies of lore (a neverending brigade with which athletes have done battle through many a year and often lost more than their shirts) or in the luxuriant lap and cozy cushion that is the NHL standings.

How strong is their position, running away from the bulls and the bears in becoming the one and only worthwhile story of Chicago's winter? Their stock is so high they could finish the regular season 14-15 with 29 games to go and still make history. Heady times, making us all want to beat and bare our chests like King Kong Kane.

For all you young hockey players out there, as Edzo would say, remember to have your belts buckled tight before agreeing to any compromising photos being taken. No one begrudges you some healthy fun, but less suggestive poses and clothing malfunctions leave all us panting watchers with an air of mystery to unravel about whether it's starry-eyed romance in bloom or just the remake of Randy Rides Alone (which is a John Wayne movie).

No wonder everyone is trying to drink in the euphoria while it lasts, because even the young studs should realize that history shows from nectar to nadir, from draught to dregs, is just a few sips away. But, for now, tomorrow's descent seems impossible to envision, even if it's almost predestined if you examine the record book and note small patches of intense sunlight in Chicago hockey for a few seasons followed by lengthy periods of darkness and dissolution.

Yep, I know. Never happen for a good long time with Kane and Toews and Keith and Hossa and...OK, let's look at what will be and what has been.

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Mad Dog Madden shows Blackhawks how to rebound off the glass

8176_John+Madden-1_jpg-550x0.jpgJohn Madden shouldn't be overlooked in his night out with Patrick Kane and Company. So he deserves his own headline. Leadership skills aren't confined only to the ice. My question is, where's Michel Goulet and Chris Chelios? Oh, man, do I miss those road trips, where it's really tiring staying in with room service and all the adult videos you can digest.

Kane enjoys life in the fast lane in Vancouver

8880_Patrick+Kane-1_jpg-550x0.jpgThank goodness Patrick Kane has learned the joys of taking a limo. He was obviously just getting acquainted in Vancouver, since he will be going back next month for the Olympics with Team USA.

Q picks Huet to start Tuesday in Edmonton; Niemi supporters ask Y

niemivancouver.jpgThe Q memorandum sent us all a concise message we can decipher in a million different ways.

What did coach Joel Quenneville actually say without saying it by choosing Monday to start Cristobal Huet over Andy Niemi in goal Tuesday night in Edmonton?

At least I'm assuming that's true, since The Tribune's Chris Kuc had that juicy item confirming Huet's start down lower in a breaking news post on the Andrew Ladd-Ryan Kesler squabble about reading "The Red Badge of Courage" and the literary implications it may have on the NHL..

Huet is back in the saddle. In fact, Kuc has Huet quoted saying he felt good about getting a chance to start again.

Myself, I think Q let us know once more for emphasis that Huet will be their guy this season, win or lose, and Niemi is just a good stopgap to be used sparingly.

Actions are known to speak louder than words. So while Q will have the appropriate excuses and trite explanations ready, the guy he didn't pick will be as important as the guy he did and this decision will resound for months to come..

Game, set, matchless madness. Perhaps Q just flips a coin in the back room to see who goes in net, although he would need to be waterboarded to admit such an easy solution.

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Niemi takes control of the Blackhawks' No. 1 goalie job, dousing the Flames 3-1

Andy Niemi hasn't surged ahead quite yet in your initial google search for Andys. He is no match so far for Andy Griffith, Andy Warhol, Andy Hardy, Andy Rooney, Andy Williams or even that madcap drinker Andy Capp for that matter.

But give him time, and time is apparently on his side from what coach Joel Quenneville is saying. Niemi is going to get an opportunity to prove he should be the Blackhawks No. 1 goaltender for a long time and a Stanley Cup championship winner this year.

The Americanization of Andy began Thursday night in Calgary in Chicago's 3-1 victory. It certainly seemed appropriate that number 31 made sure the 8-game trip has stretched closer and closer to stupendous with a 3-1 record so far.

"He's playing well," Q said afterward. "Tough to take that away."

Down the stretch, Niemi was calm and composed and in position, stopping a Jay Boumeester shot through traffic by just being in the right place at the right time. Earlier, he also threw in a bit of luck with a puck glancing off his mask and off the post and away from trouble.

But a Hawks goalie both good and lucky would be just fine with me. You make your own luck and Niemi has forced his way to the top after some preferred Corey Crawford when they did battle to decide the backup in preseason. Those Crawford supporters now can't be found, because Niemi makes any other decision seem dumber than dumb.

Niemi is virtually certain to be back in net in Vancouver Saturday. Cristobal Huet is likely to get another chance before the trip concludes, but Niemi has his fate in his hands now and those hands usually allow a minimum of rebounds and are complimented by a head that appears steady and solid rather than fragile and frenetic, like the Frenchman.

If this Finn continues to finish the way he did with his teammates' help against the Flames, there may be no stopping him or them. The best team in the NHL may have gotten better as long as Niemi holds onto the No. 1 role with all his might. Imagine that.

In seven games this season, Niemi has permitted one or fewer goals. His numbers are better than anything this recession-proof team has seen in some time.

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Huet ventures toward his longest season; Chicago fans quake in terror at a 34-year-old virgin

huetottawa.jpgCristobal Huet is about to take a journey like none other in his career. It has nothing to do with Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and the other tour stops ahead.

The Blackhawks goaltender is seven games away from playing the most games ever in a season for the same team during his NHL career. Who knows what will happen when Huet is asked to shoulder more of a workload and more responsibility than he has previously been assigned to handle. Coping is so far not one of his lifetime strengths between the pipes, where the organ has played the requiem more than the ragtime for him.

Anything beyond 42 games in one city is new ground for Huet. Might it be made of quicksand, sucking the life out of him and us? Or can he be, for once, a survivor?

If a large segment isn't sold on him yet after 36 more games this season of uncertain provenance (from the French word provenir, meaning where the hell did this guy come from?), we are all venturing onto thin and dangerous ice, a hot spot where no one knows how he will hold up with the longest season and biggest challenge yet before him.

Biggest Loser or American Idol? No one really knows. Not coach Joel Quenneville. Not his teammates. Not Huet. No one really can tell us what we can expect, since Huet has never exactly been where he's going.

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Hossa looks close to exploding on offense; power play needs him for a great trip

hossajan18.jpgIf the Blackhawks are going to take a fantastic 2-0 start to an 8-game journey and turn it into a memorable stretch that solidifies their status as the NHL's best team, Marian Hossa must be one of the reasons a good trip zooms into overdrive and becomes great.

Hossa didn't score a point Sunday in regulation or overtime during the 4-3 shootout win at Detroit. But the skillful right wing managed a season high of 7 shots and he contributed a deft shootout score that preceded Patrick Sharp's game winner.

I covered horse racing at one point in my career. This Ol' Hoss looks ready to bust loose based on his recent starts and run wild. Get your bets down on number 81. He's champing at the bit to chew up some scenery with a star turn.

While shootout scores don't count in individual statistics, Hossa looked better than you might think from his rare box score of 0-0-0 against his former team.

Resuming Tuesday night in Ottawa, I think the fact Hossa has 11 points from his last nine games and made a late flurry at the Red Wings Sunday is an indication that he is about to flash his superstar form when most needed.

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Niemi, Sharp spur Blackhawks to a NBC shootout win over Detroit 4-3

So much good. So much bad. Let's start at the beginning and lay this out like a road map, because we know this story will finish well with a 4-3 Chicago win Sunday on NBC-TV from Patrick Sharp's shootout score.

The first three periods were a roller coaster. The Blackhawks went up-and-down with four straight power plays in the first period, then Detroit tried to catch a wave with three straight power plays in the second period. That resulted in a 3-2 Hawks lead after 40 minutes with a pair of power-play goals: one by Patrick Kane, one by Henrik Zetterberg.

The third period was almost all the Red Wings, and if not for Andy Niemi's stellar work, the Hawks would have lost in regulation. Detroit's defense limited Chicago to three shots in the first 15 minutes of the third period before the Hawks pressured a little bit better offensively, raising the prospect Marian Hossa might deliver the game winner with a couple chances.

Niemi never saw Patrick Eaves' point shot from the left to tie at 3 in the third, blocked by his own defenseman, Brent Seabrook, as much as by Detroit's Darren Helm alongside Seabrook. Eaves basically rang a pinball shot into the right side of the net with Niemi, Seabrook and Helm stacked up around the left crease, all looking in the wrong direction.

Niemi wasn't the ony one not to see the shot. Neither did the NBC audience live. Talk about too many men in the broadcast booth. NBC got caught talking too much and showing tape to support their analysis, unforgivably allowing Eaves to tie the score with no cameras on him. A quick replay naturally followed, but imagine the furor for the NFL or NBA or MLB if a big score eluded their cameras.

Do better, NBC. Or hockey will never be able to go from minors to majors in the eyes of the nation.

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Campbell sustains successful rehab from salary overdose and other irrational highs

campbellcolumbus.jpgWhile Duncan Keith battles Washington's Mike Green to see who wins the Norris Trophy as the NHL's best defenseman, the rehabilitation of Brian Campbell continues to be one of the best comeback stories of the year in Chicago.

Campbell's 30 points might not rival Green's high of 46 for defensemen and Keith's 43, but compared to where Campbell stood a year ago at this time as a reviled multi-millionaire in Chicago who was judged a failed attempt to splurge by the team, his recovery from a salary overdose illustrates how cohesive the Blackhawks have become in their strong bid to secure the Stanley Cup championship for the first time since 1961.

Campbell does lead both Green and Keith in one category. He is a plus-19, one better than teammate Keith and two up on Green. That has Campbell tied for third best in the league in plus-minus among defensemen, not far behind leader Jeff Schultz of Washington (plus-26) and Brent Seabrook's plus-24 for Chicago.

If you want to carry the theme farther, Niklas Hjalmarrson logs in 11th in plus-minus. That gives Chicago four defensemen in the top 11 of the NHL. Washington and Vancouver each have two defensemen in this elite group, but the fact the Blackhawks feature four is more proof that we should have a special season on our hands.

And we might have to get past Vancouver and Washington in the postseason to grab hold of a long elusive Stanley Cup. The Canucks and Capitals are two teams that could play a crucial role in how this season shakes down for the Blackhawks.

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Blackhawks avoid a back-breaker of a season with Khabby now Edmonton's misery

khabbyhurt.jpgLuckily, there is no such animal as loyalty in professional sports. That's as mythological as the unicorn.

Otherwise, the news Wednesday that goalie Nikolai Khabibulin will be out indefinitely after back surgery to fix a herniated disk would really mean something to the Blackhawks. It still leaves us with a lesson of be-careful-what-you-wish-for that we should study just a little.

From our lofty perch, we can rub out chins and debate the true meaning of this injury that isn't hurting us. So what the hell do we care how long he misses.

The fact Khabibulin's absence will impact the Edmonton Oilers is meaningless. They can't be deader than they are already and will simply have to argue the next $16,000 team restaurant tab, as they did recently in Calgary for their most feisty efforts of the season, without a few extra Stolis on the check for Khabby.

OK, I'm just assuming he supports his national brand of vodka. I support them all, but I'm that kind of United Nations type. Maybe he drinks water strictly from the Volga river for all I know.

Let's flip back to last offseason, when the early consensus was that Khabibulin didn't have a chance to be re-signed due to the tight Chicago salary-cap room. But come the final hours of free agent signings, there were reports in Chicago that then-GM Dale Tallon continued to be in hot pursuit of Khabibulin and we were warned not to be surprised if he came back.

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Starting Sunday, Blackhawks have to make NBC stand for Nothing But Chicago

jesus_hockey.jpgI imagine this country can never get enough of Blackhawks-Red Wings. So we should see them face the nation on 3 of the next 13 Sundays on NBC, beginning this Sunday with the game at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.

First, a head bow at church to loosen the torso. Then a cross-check to the neck for an even stricter bendover to the all-mighty pacifier. What better matchup than that? Lessons for the soul and body.

Although NBC has flex scheduling, where officials can choose the most appealing game to try to awaken an indifferent nation to hockey 13 days ahead of time, I have no doubts that they won't pass up an opportunity to feature United Center's made-for-TV environment March 7 for that Red Wings' encounter.

Be the perfect post-Olympics carryover, hopefully when some Blackhawks stars hold sway on a world stage with their respective teams and make a lasting impression they can bring to the glittering footlights of Chicago.

Patriotic anthem. Smiling light-bulb Bobby Hull. Passionate fans on both sides of the UC aisle. Owner Rocky Wirtz with his common man's seat among the fans and not lording it over them from a skybox. Regional rivalry. Celebrity magnet for those in-game cotton-candy shots that TV loves.

Wings-Hawks or Carolina-Atlanta, one of NBC's other choices March 7? Yeah, filet mignon or dogshit? Which one would you choose? They also have Boston-Pittsburgh as an alternate game that day, but Chicago is the destination of choice for the NHL, especially when we seek to capture a balky national audience, who would rather be waterboarding for fun in some cases you have to believe, and the defending champion Penguins have to live with Chicago as the boob tube's No. 1 draw.

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Blackhawks face Armageddon, but find it's better than living in anonymity

ducks.jpgHow long do we have to put up with this miserable, unremitting skid?

Forget the two-game losing streak. I'm not talking about that travesty. I want answers about how the Hawks can lose for just the second time this year when allowing a power-play goal at the United Center.

Circle the beer wagons, boys, you have the populace in a fine froth and refreshments will be required to mask their chagrin.

Of course, we have seen power plays scored against the Blackhawks so infrequently this great season on home ice, I somewhat suspect the latest untenable, unacceptable, unfathomable and un-un-un-unbelievable tragedy, not to mention unquestionable perfidy Sunday night against Anaheim in a 3-1 loss, was an ice-sculpture allusion.

The fates tacked it on like a foreclosure notice the day after the Hawks went bankrupt and were charged with delinquency in Minnesota for abandoning a four-goal lead.

Either that, or momentary drop-in Jack Skille infected his teammates Sunday with his own special disease of skating very well in circles and just getting nowhere quite quickly and looking like he's making a valiant effort doing it. The next time the Hawks have to replace Marian Hossa, please make it with a NHL player who knows where he's going and plans to make something happen.

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As Blackhawks bandwagon gets crowded, the high and the mighty chime in from afar

brouwerinboston.jpgThe time has come to introduce some distinguished critics to Blackhawks Confidential to analzye what's shaping up to be a season where everyone thinks they're experts.

Many Hawks fans have fallen off the wagon more times than they can count, so I guess we should start worrying how soon the new bandwagon riders will feel the pain of free fall should what's going up like a rocket come down faster than a Viagra overdose gone bad.

Although any talk about popping balloons on West Madison Street is heresy and punishable under penalty of law by being forced to watch 20 consecutive Chicago Wolves games.

"I feel the pain of a little censure, even when it is unfounded, is more acute than the pleasure of much praise," Thomas Jefferson e-mailed us from some mountaintop in Virginia, where redcoats are hated as much as Red Wings.

OK, then, Tommy, the mighty and infallible Blackhawks won't mind being lectured in stern tones that they must quit starting so many games slowly, knowing that they will catch up with the flow when they so desire to partake. It's a bad trend, even if your shot totals scream in delight at being a NHL-best 33.4 for the good guys and 24.1 for the bad guys.

"We are always more anxious to be distinguished for a talent which we do not possess, than to be praised for the fifteen which we do possess," Mark Twain twittered from his steamboat ride down the Mississippi.

OK, Twainer (no relation to Kaner), so let's take a moment to point out to any of you smuggery supporters who can see no flaws, the Hawks' power-play percentage at United Center of 16.8 per cent (16 goals from 95 chances) is terrible. Never the twain shall meet between Stanley Cup and this club unless that category dramatically improves.

"There is no one wise man in twenty that will praise himself," Will Shakespeare texted.

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Kane has himself in NHL MVP picture as Blackhawks race for four singular prizes

kanemvp.jpgI hate to tamper with this communal "one goal" program we have operating at full efficiency and yet tampering is one of my pleasures in life, so I plan to make the argumentative cases for some Blackhawks escaping the one-for-all, all-for-one Three Musketeers brainwashing and being singled out for their special swordplay when this season is over.

It's not over until it's over, and the Hawks have played among the fewest road games in the NHL, but where the hell is the fun in waiting to name your award winners when everyone else does? Just halfway home, away games or not, we have some full-fledged contenders to win a few major awards and I don't mind stepping on some toes saying so.

Before naming names, I must point out there are some spooky holdovers from the last season the Blackhawks seized the ultimate team prize. In the interests of karma to show history's bound to repeat if you manage to live enough (that's the trick), I'm traveling back in my time machine, made by Edsel.

I was a rebel without a cause then, clear back in 1961 when there was a young president who hailed from a famous Irish political port of call and sailed into the White House with huge gusts of energy and a rather inordinate amount of media focus on his wife and kids.

Almost 50 years down the road, I'm a rebel without a clue. The White House family picture, meanwhile, is still the same with two kids frolicking in the background and a wife setting fashion trends, even if this prez has changed course and is sailing down the courts during business hours and recess with nothing but fast breaks and slam dunks on his agenda.

After a forced exile, a crime-spree era from which Bill Wirtz and Bob Pulford are still facing charges of kidnapping and murdering championship dreams, a Stanley Cup vision again lives in Chicago a half-century later and this time people will be taking pictures of it on their cell phones. It serves as a welcome diversion from our winter challenge come Thursday of not skating off the road into a ditch, just like 50 years ago.

Man, those half-a-hundred have gone by in the wink of an eye, haven't they? In Chicago, it seems that way. After all, we still have the same keynote speakers as hockey celebrities 50 years later.

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The Blackhawks try to get the max out of their Minny battles this week

havlatjan5.jpgWhile the Blackhawks are the better team, be it written on paper, papyrus, parchment or a stick of Juicy Fruit, the home-and-home showdowns this week with Minnesota exude the feel and smell of intrigue.

I think we need to be on guard for sneak attacks, and exploding underwear might not be out of the question. It may not be as easy as it first looks against the Wild, even with their current three-game losing skid. They are a resurgent 20-19-3 after a bad start.

Marty Havlat still has to be pissed off, right? Remember when he was going to be our own icy, descriptive Deep Throat and let us know all the shenanigans going on behind the scenes in Chicago, purported scandals that were being shielded from our view and would truly shock us once he unloaded the truth in our laps like a garbage truck.

Well, Marty didn't deliver on his vague promises and he came up empty again Oct. 26 when the Wild, his new home after being rejected by the Hawks, lost 3-1 at United Center. All we have heard in a long while now from Marty is the eerie sound of silence.

The best that To-Hav and Hav-Not could come up with in his dismissal from the Blackhawks was to gossip to TSN that team president John McDonough was "a phony" and he and his old Chicago teammates used to josh and jest about the heathen's intrusion into their sacrosanct world.

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Are Kovalchuk trade "suggestions" just a Doctor Zhivago dreamscape or a hard reality for the Blackhawks?

ilya.jpgTrade rumors are like beautiful Hollywood starlets without any flaws. Look hard enough and the warts and wear-and-tear are there, hidden under the scarlet covers.

That doesn't deter us from the scintillating kick of diving into wonderland and finding out for ourselves about tarnished perfection, especially when we can crawl beneath those covers for a first-hand peek and twist the levers this way and that like the Wizard of Ooze.

Sometimes you end up with a scabby Lindsay Lohan, sometimes with a 50-car collision like Rosanne Barr and sometimes with a still fetching Faith Hill. Just never know. We keep on believing, though, that the rumors of startling beauty are right and the living will be easy.

It's a sign of how far we have come in Chicago as Blackhawks fans to even seriously debate as our long-awaited championship year dawns with cold claws and warm hopes what appears to be pure, unbelievable fluff at the moment: rumors that raging Russian Ilya Kovalchuk might be playing left wing for the Blackhawks before this cruel month has had time to freeze our inextinguishable optimism and other unprotected body parts.

Kovalchuk, by the way, would be playing left wing along with new linemates Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. You might have heard of them, two of the NHL's brightest stars. That will be your Eskimo lens melter in Chicago right there for later this month if Kovalchuk indeed shows up in a trade. We can see clearly now and what we see is: BINGO.

Even if he wants to wear the kilt from the accompanying picture, we'll still welcome him in.

That's a real beauty allright to contemplate. Kovalchuk/Toews/Kane. We could just phone it in from there.

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Blackhawks ring out the old with a win and look for a new era of championship hockey

Well, that was easy, wasn't it?

After my share of refreshments at Chequers in LaGrange Thursday night, where owner Matt and barkeep Tom and beautiful waitress Christine rung in my new year just fine and I assured them I'd kiss ass, it felt especially good to be in a positive Blackhawks atmosphere where the 5-1 win over New Jersey was expected and not a surprise.

Troy Brouwer is the most underrated player in the league. And that's how you get over the hump to win championships, with people that emerge from obscurity.

Replacement analyst Denis Savard gave the No. 1 star on Comcast to goalie Cristobal Huet, but I think Savard is still part of the feel-good brigade that is trying hard as they might to will Huet into being a No. 1 goalie, which he still has to prove to many of us he is.

He was OK, but not three-star worthy. Well, maybe third star. I'm being kind, which is just my nature.

I got no problem with anything right now, because we have the best team in hockey and I have a snootfull.

It's amazing to me Savard is still cheering on the Hawks in such public fashion after being fired just a year ago. That shows what an amazing game hockey is and the tremendous individuals that are part of it.

You won't see Lovie Smith kissing the Bears ass a year after he's fired.

I don't have a problem, either, with  Savard or any of our blog commenters pumping up the problematic Huet. I'm still rooting for my No. 1 puppy Keira to take a shit in the grass and not right outside the door on the patio.

Just like Huet, it's a process. My hope is Huet and Keira both evolve into shit-stirrers in 2010.

Judging by this game, Team Canada anchor Martin Brodeur might be a problem child in the 2010 Olympics. But who gives a shit about the Devils or Team Canada for that matter.

Saint Johnny Toews was an icon, as usual, in this game. What else is new. But let's celebrate the new year by naming the five things we would like to see from the Hawks in 2010.

I want to hear from you, as always, since this is your blog and not mine. But here's my top five.

ONE: Marian Hossa has to find a way to be exceptional rather than pretty good. And Coach Joel Quenneville has to make it happen.

TWO: Kris Versteeg has to harness his excellent skills into a managable hockey player who plays within the system and makes a difference by being solid rather than fancy. Versteeg could be a monster if he adapts.

THREE: Patrick Kane has to continue to be the MVP of the National Hockey League, which he has so far. No one can touch him at his best, not even those ballyhooed guys Ovechin or Crosby (not Bing).

FOUR: The power play has to move the puck with the rhythm we have seen on occasion and not just once in a while.

FIVE: John Madden has to continue to be the psychological motivator that he has been so far and provide the character factor on ice and off that wins championships in the trenches.

While I'm out of numbers, let me add that I hope the Blackhawks Confidential community that has grown over the past year keeps on keeping the Blackhawks honest by providing your honest opinions on this site, where we are beholden to no one and say what we mean, right, wrong or bullshit.

Thanks for your passion, your knowledge, your observations, your sarcasm, your criticisms of us and your belief that sometimes we are full of shit.

I'll try to keep being a pain in the ass if you will. What more can you ask with a new year where we have the NHL by the short hairs and a Stanley Cup is real and not a fictitious goal

Give me your five wishes for the new year, other than winning than lottery. Peace, and let's kick ass.

Huet collapses and the Blackhawks unjustly fall, too, to Dallas 5-4

If Marian Hossa scores on a shorthanded breakaway chance off a Duncan Keith pass to start the third period and take the lead 5-4, I believe the Blackhawks win in Dallas Tuesday night.

Instead, Stars goalie Marty Turco made the save to stop Chicago from adding onto the momentum of a Patrick Kane goal with seconds left in the second period to tie the score 4-4 and Chicago fell short in this 5-4 loss, allowing a rare two power-play goals.

Of course, considering goalie Cristobal Huet tripped on his own skates moving right to set up to face the onrushing Mike Modano on a first-period Dallas power play--and permitted him an egregious goal--the penalty killing can't be faulted too much.

Goalies are not expected to skate like you and me. Luckily, he doesn't chew gum violently like Steve Larmer did when he had to play without smoking cigarettes. I'm not too sure he could without falling on his ass all the time.

We are going to hear a lot about Huet's poor performance since he gave up four goals off 10 shots before coach Joel Quenneville pulled him early in the second period for Andy Niemi, who did his best after that to put the Hawks in a position to rally. Andy was very handy again and some will renew the call for him to play more.

But the question is--should we over-react to Huet's stinker? Everyone has them. He can't be dissed more than the Versus studio analysts did to him. Keith Jones and Brian Engblom teamed up to call Huet a piece of shit, although they used nicer language.

"They don't play as if they have a weak goaltender," Jones said in complimenting the Hawks.

Ouch. All the Huet haters will be out in force. I'm in favor of cutting him a little slack, although Quenneville has a tough decision for New Year's Eve against New Jersey at United Center.

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I like this holiday movie: Blackhawks Slumpless In Chicago (Or Anywhere Else)

Watching hockey in a bar is a tricky position. Start talking to people and you can miss two Nashville goals quicker than you can recite the Gettysburg Address.

I was still talking about the two-goal lead when I saw it had become 4-4 within two sips of a martini, which was suddenly shaken and not stirred.

You miss some of the finer points of play, but that's always good for Dustin Byfuglien. And bars with hockey on TV and the sound off are made for Patrick Kane and John Madden, who couldn't be missed in this helter/skelter 5-4 win.

They come barging through the screen no matter what. So while I freely admit I didn't pay much undivided attention Sunday night to all the small pictures that this game of hockey provides, right now the big picture is good enough to carry us through the holidays.

The Blackhawks are Slumpless In Chicago. Or anywhere else for that matter. They should keep this movie in re-runs forever.

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Blackhawks at least go down fighting in 3-2 loss to San Jose

As losses go, this was a pretty good one.

You can piss and moan and bitch, if you really want, about Cristobal Huet perhaps not being technically sound on the first two goals in this 3-2 loss to San Jose. The Blackhawks goalie almost seemed to react differently than he has in recent weeks, when he has come out and challenged shooters consistently, because he knew offensive stars Dany Heatley and Joe Thornton were bearing down on him with no defense to help him.

Huet went down early facing both duels and lost. Heatley broke away just enough from Duncan Keith left of the net after sucking in defenseman Dan Boyle's pass and lifted a first-period goal over a crouching Huet. Not at all surprising from a Sharks team that began this unholy night leading the NHL with 65 road goals.

Considering that the Hawks put on sustained pressure from the outset against goalie Evgeni Nabokov and couldn't quite get a rhythm going, despite outshooting the Sharks 26-7 in the first two periods, you had the weird feeling early that this might be San Jose's game after dropping a pair of games to the Hawks in November.

The law of averages seemed to enter into the equation here. It was the Sharks turn. When Chicago made a mistake, turning over the puck in the neutral zone when opportunistic Joe Pavalski anticipated well in the second period and turned a steal into a pass that led to a Thornton score shorthanded, you sensed that no matter how hard they tried, the Hawks weren't destined to turn in a miracle finish here.

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Blackhawks fans have to learn to be smuggery and enjoy life in fast lane

hawkswingsdec20.jpgJust asking, but is it too late for Team Canada to pick Brian Campbell for its 2010 Olympic experience in February, just as some experts predicted would happen a long, long time ago?

I suppose we are getting a little bit hoggy in Chicago expecting Steve Yzerman to be smart enough to select Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Campbell for his defense. If he wants to win, though, Yzerman should recognize the more Blackhawks the better chance he has and to hell with the rest of the NHL being pampered by seeking to be even-handed.

If the selectors are truly basing decisions on recent play before announcing their team in late December, Campbell would be impossible to ignore.

Together, the speedy Keith and Campbell could be hailed as Canada's Whiz Kids and have the maple leaf of lore flapping continuously in a strong breeze as they skated Olympic-sized rings around opponents.

Well, maybe not speedster Patrick Kane, who should be pulling Team USA on his back and that squad looks to need all the help it can get, which means Dustin Byfuglien is probably along for the ride, as well, two months from now to see if he can wrap himself in the flag and be a patriotic head-knocker.

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Detroit fans could lose their shirts Sunday in Chicago

WingsHawksT.jpgIn the interest of stirring the pot this holiday season, I bring you greetings from Red Wings nation, where this was found hiding in their closet.

There seems a good chance, though, that Detroit fans figuratively and literally could lose their shirt with two games against Chicago within four days, starting Sunday at United Center.

The Wings are the Ghost of Stanley Cup titles past, while the Blackhawks are the Ghost of future championships, beginning with 2010.

Happy holidays. Time to kick some ass and jingle some bells.

The time has come for the Blackhawks to show the dead Wings who's the boss

blues625dec17.jpgThe Blackhawks are taking bold steps forward this season. But would you feel differently if somehow the Detroit Red Wings figured a way to beat them twice before Christmas?

What about a split with the Wings? That would leave a bad taste, too, and sour the holiday eggnog, as well.

The Hawks aren't going to win 'em all, but even a split with Detroit in the next key segment would be reason to say "bah, humbug."

Two wins over Detroit would be the start of a sea change, further proof that there is indeed a new sheriff in town and times have changed dramatically since Detroit ended the Blackhawks' championship dream in the Western Conference finals last season by showing they were the much superior team.

No matter how far these Blackhawks have come this year, and it has been an exciting climb into the NHL elite, it remains a matter of sound mental health for Blackhawks fans to be able to say that they truly have the dead wings out of their system, barbecued and burnt beyond recognition with injury losses of Nik Kronwall, Johan Franzen, Dan Cleary and Valtteri Filppula.

That can only happen if there isn't a repeat of that 3-2 loss in Detroit to start the season on familiar ground after their campaign commenced in Finland. Losing to the Wings is much too familiar, and that's why the momentum between them has to swing now for Chicago to really enjoy the fruits of its labors.

First up, of course, is Boston Friday night. But come Sunday when Detroit visits United Center and Dec. 23 at Joe Louis Arena, the Blackhawks will face a litmus test of how good they are. In between those Wings games there's also a team called the San Jose Sharks in town for another measuring-standard challenge, those same Sharks the Hawks defeated not too long back in California for a statement game that they had become one of the NHL's top clubs.

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Media rankings play fast-and-loose with Blackhawks while Hossa preaches passing fancy on power play

hossapowerplay.jpgNot only was Marian Hossa direct and to the point with his much-replayed goal from Sunday's 4-0 win over Tampa Bay, starting with his center fielder's catch/drop of the puck followed by the power hitter's clean homer clout in midair, all while skating onward and upward.

The succinct Slovak was equally as candid and enlightening with his penetrating review of the Blackhawks' herky-jerky power play. Hopefully his teammates are listening and will act accordingly for Wednesday night's game against St. Louis at United Center.

Follow the leader when he speaks. Please. You, too, might become a miracle worker by being more still, deadly and focused on the attack.

"We just have to be more patient," the experienced Hossa observed in Chris Kuc's notebook for The Tribune. "Instead of moving just the puck, we try to move ourselves too much."

Tic, tac, duh!

Hossa remembers those fluid Detroit Red Wings' power plays of yesteryear. He realizes his Hawks teammates have to understand a pass moves faster than the skates and positioning is one of the culprits in identifying why the Hawks are stoned too much when they have extra skaters clogging rather than cooperating.

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The Blackhawks Blob eats opposing offenses and spits 'em out--just like a champion

the-blob-eats-a-jock.jpgMarian Hossa was the face of the Blackhawks Sunday. He looked not unlike Errol Flynn at his Robin Hood finest, snatching a puck from mid-flight, treating it like a yo-yo as it dropped on a string with suspended animation and finishing the cartoon flickers by scoring without puck kissing ice for the slickest swordplay this season in Chicago.

Wile E. Coyote couldn't have done it better. But as much as the Blackhawks are re-imagined characters from the golden age of TV with their Hoss resurrecting the days of Bonanza when brothers bled like Patrick Kane did one moment and rode high the next as Hossa did, I have to contend these Blackhawks should be best known as a faceless conglomeration.

To give you a precise definition, they are a sum total of many heterogenous things, just a mass of miscellany. If you prefer a less hi-falutin' breakdown, they are The Blob, growing ever larger as they devour the NHL one scary piece at a time and assume proportions seldom seen in these parts from your hockey heroes.

The Blob is nothing if not faceless. It's unstoppable. It's cancerous. It's a good-looking tumor of terror.

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Byfuglien confuses Blackhawks fans with winning drive: how dare the slacker be good

buffrangers.jpgReally good teams have one common thread. They all have players that fans love to hate for underachieving.

If only this, if only that. Damn slackers. These role players eagerly disappear into the mass misery on bad teams like the Bears and the Bulls, where boredom has persuaded probably a few fans to seek other pursuits this winter, maybe discovering a sport that's been hidden in the closet for years along with the mittens and scarfs.

Welcome to CSI Chicago, because with the Blackhawks, the fringes are watched and debated and analyzed and put under the microscope as much as the core, because everything has a brighter illumination when success is within reach and a gleaming pot of gold can be seen as a living and breathing presence at the end of the rainbow.

Expectations are so elevated that everyone on the team from top to bottom is held to a much higher standard. Fans think the path to a championship would be so much easier if so-and-so simply played more consistently and with more dedication to his job and with more smarts. I can't believe the dumb bunny is such a silly cluck.

Or as The Second City hockey blog pointed out Thursday, Dustin Byfuglien proved to us again why that site (among many others, including this one) has criticized him so much. That damn guy went and scored the overtime game winner Wednesday night to beat New York 2-1 and prove once again he should be better than he is more often.

How dare he show us how good he can be when we know he is going to be bad again soon. Maybe Friday night in Buffalo. The nerve of the guy to don a hero's costume we consider a fake to set us up for future disappointment. Stop toying with us, some fans want to shout. Quit the goal scoring. It confuses us.

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Savard will dish food, drinks and fun in his own Hall of Fame restaurant

savardfoodie.jpgFearless Denis Savard is venturing into a career-threatening business where the turnover is greater than coaching. He plans to fling open the doors to Savard's Hall of Fame restaurant and ice bar in late January in Munster, Ind.

A guy famous for dishing pucks when he was an ice icon will be taking on a tough crowd this time. Just like Mike Keenan, it could send shivers down his spine.

Not even Michael Jordan could fly high enough to keep his Chicago restaurant open. Scroll a list of famous athletes who have been grilled to death by the food-and-drink game and it is a gourmet's Hall of Fame thrown right into the garbage.

Just sticking in the Midwest region, Don Mattingly couldn't make a go of it in Evansville, Ind., nor Brett Hull in St. Louis or George Brett in Kansas City with a try at pine-tarred steaks or Jim McMahon in Chicago with a menu as succulent as headbands.

Neither could Jim Kelly in Buffalo or famed championship prophet Joe Namath in New York or catcher-of-the-night Johnny Bench in Cincinnati or Larry Bird in Terre Haute Cuisine, Ind. or Pete Rose in Cincinnati betting that tonight will be the night or Rusty Staub in Manhattan serving Rusty Nails...stop me, please.

Athletes have always found their Achilles heel marinating in the soup. Sammy Sosa dipped a toe into a possible reaturant with his marquee name when he was Slammin' Sammy. That idea never came uncorked before he did, showing that not only is fame fleeting, but so is an excellent steak and martini for less than the gross national product of the Dominican Republic.

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Blackhawks have to shake their moneymaker in Pittsburgh to win more hearts

shake1.jpgWhen the Blackhawks obliterated the Sharks in San Jose last month, they shot straight to the top of the league in many estimations as the best team out there.

They won hearts and minds, not just a contest. Not all wins are equal. Some outcomes exude and expel into the ether of ever-shifting opinion much more significance than others, just like an expensive perfume.

Heading into Friday's game against Nashville in Chicago, the Hawks presently smell as comely as that $215,000 bottle of designer Clive Christian's "Imperial Majesty," which I'm sure you are buying your wife, girlfriend or mistress this Christmas.

Maybe all three. Gotta keep up with Tiger, all you party animals out there. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith can buy "Imperial Majesty" for every female Blackhawks fan sniffing their snoot on the sideboard glass and have plenty left over.

As the $60 million dollar men of the NHL, the Hawks are shaking their moneymakers and kicking ass, too, just like the song recommends you do. Only depends on if you've heard it from Ludacris, Fleetwood Mac, the Black Crowes, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, the...well, never mind.

The Hawks didn't simply beat the Sharks last month, either. They smashed San Jose into little tiny fish sticks.

That gave pause for thought to the big-picture guys, instilling doubts in those annual and misguided believers who contend that this will be the Sharks' year to finally rule that roost, rather than drowning again in their own gurgling disillusions.

Another potential "shake your moneymaker" occasion arises for Chicago come Saturday night in Pittsburgh against Sidney Crosby, Inc. Time again for them to get a tight death grip on those hearts and minds.

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Guess the Blackhawks playing their farewell seasons in Chicago due to salary cap space

buff.jpgOK, time for our Blackhawks Confidential contest, which wins an all-expenses free trip on Amtrak to a vodka-powered bar not far from me for an all-day, all-night goofoff, where we can be sporting and play liar's poker to determine who buys the next drink.

As any knowledgeable barstool jockey in two countries (I still have unpaid tabs in Canada) will tell you, I suck at liar's poker. So it may turn into a day's free ride to alcoholics unanimous. Reformed drinkers are also eligible, since I have always loved a cheap date.

If the Blackhawks are now pledged to pay 15 players $60.609 million next season in salary cap commitments and the current salary cap of $56.9 million is expected to stay right there or perhaps be lowered, who gets the ax from that group of 15?

List your top four in order of their approaching exit from Chicago. The season might yet be young, but it's getting old in a hurry for some Blackhawks who won't live to see another season in Chicago.

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Is slumping Sharp worth more in trade value than in Chicago?

sharp-sopel.jpgTime to kick around an old question with a new perspective while waiting for Columbus to reheat United Center Tuesday night. Is left wing Patrick Sharp indispensable? Or have we come to a case of needing to play stud poker and take a sizeable gamble that pays off if everyone gets what they need?

Maybe let another franchise get a whiff of his Versace sex appeal? It has not always been that sweet smell of success. Sharp's seasons have glaring holes in them that all look the same sooner or later: 0-0-0 for extended periods.

I'm a little torn on this issue, because I like Sharp and he was a steal of a deal with Philadelphia and still rates as an asset, but if the Blackhawks have to do something (and they surely do), he may be the best alternative there is to reworking a few problem areas and addressing the need for a second-line center with Dave Bolland out indefinitely.

Sharp seems to offer the most bang for the buck if a trade that benefits Chicago is ever really made. The other clubs always want your best players, not the Brent Sopels of this crazy trade-rumor world, so let's get real about that.

Question is, can we part with Sharp and be the same title contenders? There's the rub.

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Some pollsters rank Blackhawks No. 1; time to worry about Shark attacks

blackhawks-logo.jpgNow it gets scary. The Blackhawks are being anointed kings of hockey in some realms.

Often just a temporary position in this tight job market, yet noteworthy at the same time it's nerve-wracking.

Kings are made to be beheaded. Thrones have been known to turn into overflowing toilets overnight. Shooting stars at nightfall find themselves crapshooting by the dawn's early light.

Can you tell I've grown up in Chicago, where the first sign of sunshine in your sports franchise makes you run for the comfort of a dark bar to ease your worries that now it suddenly has become the best times of our lives?

Yeah, that's what they said about World War II. Have you seen all the graveyards?

"The Hawks look unstoppable," the National Post's Noah Love wrote in Monday's editions.

I need a depressant straight from the ol' bottle to calm these shakes. Two countries are forming alliances for the Hawks' coronation ceremony.

Has Mr. Love seen our power play the entire season? Is not having a second-line center really beside the point when you have 32 points and a 15-5-2 record?

Are the Hawks just one or two major injuries away from having too many man hours lost to legitimately overcome? Is Patrick Sharp planning to join the power play in progress?

Should we see Troy Brouwer's four power-play goals as an accident or an arrival that can signal a trend? Has goalie Cristobal Huet exorcised all the hinks, kinks and stinks out of his system?

Should we not be worried, just believing the Hawks can go California surfin' for the next week, riding the wave to 6-0?

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Hossa's return centers on what it might mean for Toews, Kane

hossa.jpgMarian Hossa is a shot machine. He took 307 shots last season, more than any of the top right wings in the National Hockey League.

So when Hossa debuts in a Chicago uniform this week, perhaps playing Wednesday night in San Jose if he gets final approval, a Blackhawks team on a 7-game winning streak is expected to pick up more steam with this famous net raker.

But Hossa's arrival brings plenty of questions before he ever answers the bell.

One is what trickle-down effect will Hossa have on a club that has been excelling without him at 15-5-2 and what impact might it have on Patrick Kane? All positives, or might there be unintended negative consequences?

And should he play on a line with fellow right winger Kane with one guy obviously shifting to the left? Or should they stay apart and tend to their own business at even strength?

Another is who centers for Hossa? Here you went and got an expensive, ballyhooed free agent only to have no obvious centering candidate for him with Dave Bolland sidelined for months after back surgery.

Should you split up center Jonathan Toews and Kane and let Hossa have Toews? Or is Kane and Toews working so well together you are playing with fire by messing with that formula?

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TSN says Blackhawks trying to trade Sopel to open salary cap space for Holy Trinity

sopeltrade.jpgTSN hockey columnist Bob McKenzie has posted Friday afternoon that the Blackhawks are currently trying to trade defenseman Brent Sopel, if they can, to open enough salary cap space to be able to announce the contract extensions of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith.

"If I were a betting man," he wrote, "I would say Sopel's days in Chicago could well be numbered."

The Hawks need "tagging" room. Go to the Fifth Feather for a more elaborate description of "tagging."

But suffice it to say by stealing from other people's explanations (and without getting into some details that also have an impact on shifting the dollars here and there) that this term refers to the total dollar value of the Hawk contracts due to run out at season's end linked with the available space (very little) remaining with this year's salary cap. I think.

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Blackhawks' road power play tops NHL as Brouwer hangs with stars

toewscalgary.jpgAfter all the hand wringing early this season about the Blackhawks power play, let me share some breaking news with you.

The Hawks have the best power play percentage on the road in the National Hockey League at 32.3 per cent.

Let loose the balloons. Cue the clowns. Catch a ride on a tiger. The party's on.

NUMERO UNO in the power play outside Chicago. Who would have thunk it, eh?

That's what one night with four goals in five power-play chances, as they did in Thursday's 7-1 win at Calgary, will do for you. One explosive game made the special teams unit special again.

The penalty killing has already been applauded and remains tops in the league at 86.3 per cent, just a tick above San Jose. If the power play now can catch up to the PK, the Flames will not be the last team Chicago blows out of the building and made to look rinky-dink.

San Jose is also the other high-profile club the Hawks are battling for the lead in PP road percentage. The only difference is the Sharks have played 15 away games and are 19-of-61, which rates them 31.2 per cent on the power play.

The question now becomes whether the Hawks can hold down the prime location in road PP with five more stops on their trip, resuming Saturday night in Edmonton. They have played simply seven road games so far, but are 10-for-31 when they have extra skaters on the attack.

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Blackhawks destroy Calgary 7-1; Hjalmarsson is a real hit

Giddy-up, Blackhawk fans. Take a deep breath. It's only November.

Conserve your energy. Get a blood pressure test. Calm yourselves.

But, my goodness, this looks like a season that will last forever in your memories and perhaps never die in your minds. It's hard to stay seated and stay sane.

We have a lot to give thanks for with Thanksgiving on the horizon. God is a Blackhawks fan--again.

There is no way not to feel giddy after this performance. The Blackhawks destroyed the Calgary Flames 7-1 at the Saddledome Thursday night.

The circus trip started with the Hawks as lions and tigers, devouring everything in sight. Five games remain on the stressful journey west and if the Hawks win just three more times,  the trek will be judged a success by all.

If they can win five out of six, oh my. They will have cemented their reputation as one of the best teams in the National Hockey League. And be considered without question one of the top two or three clubs.

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Money remains the root of all evil as Blackhawks cap and trade

APOC.jpgSince it's my day to focus on master manipulators, I have to move on from goosing John McDonough to praising Windy City Hockey for its deft way with photoshopping. With the salary cap Apocalypse almost upon us, enjoy their imaginative work. If a picture is worth a thousand words, what the hell am I doing, anyway?

Blackhawks try upstaging Calgary again in a burning ring of fire

brentsutter.jpgSounds like the Blackhawks are in for a rough ride Thursday night at the Saddledome and we can expect to witness a barn burner. Emotions figure to be at a fever pitch, so keep those fire extinguishers handy by the flat screens for any flareups as the Hawks seek what would be their sixth straight win in Calgary.

Does that mean the odds are stacked against them? Or are the gods playing for Chicago once again this year? The situation is primed for some explosive action.

Not only are the Calgary Flames still sore about being butt-kicked and embarrassed Oct. 12 in Chicago, when the Blackhawks erased a 5-0 deficit to win 6-5, but the Sutters are being the Sutters, challenging all comers to a fight--both internal and external--in their usual and patented version of Family Feud, Alberta style.

According to the Calgary media, Flames coach Brent Sutter peppered some of his players in his office with some salty language after Tuesday night's 3-2 loss to Colorado. Since Dion Phaneuf was seen exiting the ring of fire and he's a star, the focus has fallen on him and Sutter being the featured grudge match of that post-game pasting.

Neither Sutter nor Phaneuf denied being involved in a verbal joust. They both fell back on the well-known chestnut that What Happens in Calgary Stays in Calgary, which is really the Las Vegas of Canada with all that roll-the-dice cowboy culture still riding herd on this rope-a-dope city.

I always imagined the Sutters grew up on that Alberta farm watching a lot of John Wayne. A comedic fight was a staple scene in many of his movies and the Sutters have a long history of inserting fight scenes into their repertoire, which can be pretty funny when you take a long view at how their passion boils over like clockwork every season.

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Blackhawks' Kopecky needs more naked aggression on circus trip

kopecky-hossa.jpgMaybe Tomas Kopecky just needs to get away. Perhaps six games outside of Chicago will be just what the doctor ordered to cure that worrisome choking sound in his throat.

Grinders frequently go unnoticed. They are supposed to blend in, sticking their beige necks out often enough that we only see a hint of red color in their cheeks as they huff and puff and try to blow their opponents down simply by hard work and unmatchable effort.

The underappreciated Kopecky, on the other hand, has been noticeable in his first season as a Blackhawk by seeming to be in perpetual hesitation mode. Sometimes it looks as if someone is yanking his chain, directing his actions by remote control and hitting that pause button by mistake before he starts up again.

If so, the puppet master has to let go. We need to see Kopecky unharnessed. Grinders Gone Wild beckons. They need some highlight reels of naked aggression.

Kopecky has 18 hits in 19 games in Chicago. That's a long way from finishing second on last season's Detroit Red Wings with 109 hits. Hard to see Kopecky equalling those flourishes if he doesn't pick up the pace and play with more physical abandon.

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Kane, Toews impending contract signings don't mean the end of Keith

Dunc.jpgI see where my partner in grime, Red Light District's Jay Zawaski, has speculated that defenseman Duncan Keith might be "odd man out" if the Blackhawks spend all their money on Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews in deals that reportedly will be announced this month-just as long as ESPN's Pierre LeBrun is being fed the straight dope by either the player agents or general manager Stan Bowman or one of his talkative henchmen.

Speaking of dope, I would recommend The Score have producer Zawaski redo his urine test to determine if he has begun smoking weed fulltime or perhaps stealing a reporter's old trick by stowing the bottle in the desk drawer. Jaybird is definitely under the influence of some kind of narcotic if he believes Keith is in danger of being shunned and targeted for expulsion by the Hawks because he deserves a big payday himself as a soon-to-be free agent.

My God, do you really want Pat Foley and Edzo to have a stroke? I mean, those guys aren't as young as they used to be. They have Keith among the three stars every night before the games start, so pencil him in one of those spots for that entire six-game circus trip that begins Thursday in Calgary and, yes, mark it down in permanent magic marker that Keith will be in Chicago for the forseeable future. And that will be a long time.

Dunc as odd man out? To say that's odd is an understatement.

Ain't happening. No way, no how, no bullshit. Stan really doesn't need Scotty to tell him he can't part with Keith. Foley and Edzo happen to be dead right. Keith started a little slowly this season, but he has been indispensable for weeks now, and despite the odd turnover, he's played just as significant a role as Kane and Toews in showing this team is better than last year's team.

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$258 million reasons the Blackhawks have become sexy in this city

Original_6_Puck.jpgThese are certainly heady times for hockey in Chicago. We are living through a renaissance with a sport that was left for dead just a few short years back, making the rebirth more satisfying than ever for puckheads.

Forbes Magazine is just out with the latest assessment of the worth of NHL clubs, and to nobody's surprise, the Blackhawks rank 7th in value at $258 million. This old ice house, despite skeletons galore, is coming on stronger than Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews together.

Since Forbes set their franchise ceiling in 2007 at $179 million, and at $205 million in 2008 when it also praised the impact of new owner Rocky Wirtz's business acumen, you can see that their on-ice progress is perhaps out-matched by even more rapid progressions with their financial welfare.

What a statement that in tough times worldwide for the almighty dollar, the Hawks have never been on stronger footing than right now. If there is life after death, Bill Wirtz currently is busy figuring out how he can beat the system and get back, even if his resurrection has to be shown on home TV.

Maybe he can find a way to bring back his return on HawkVision. I still got my baseball cap with the HawkVision logo hanging in my garage. So I'm ready for the Second Coming.

If Rocky can do a spinarama in his Brooks Brother suit without splitting any seams, let him dance on the desktop as he celebrates one more example of his success in reviving a once moribund operation that his well-meaning father, Bill, mishandled through reticence to change and consistent misjudgments in spurning proven profit-taking methods.

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Huet allows out-played Blackhawks to hang tough and win 3-2 in Colorado shootout

OK, let's get it out of the way early. Goalie Cristobal Huet won this game hands down. Or is that hands up?  Even his much-maligned glove hand plucked this almost certain loss out of midair like a sleight of hand magician.

If this doesn't instill him with confidence, nothing will. Huet should be a better goalie from here on because of how he pulled his team out of trouble time and again.

Get it through your head, Cris. You can be good. You have been good. You can play much better. That's what has to be hammered home to him today.

Patrick Sharp's shootout goal may have been the difference in a 3-2 Blackhawks' victory Wednesday night. But if not for Huet's sterling play for most of the game, Colorado would have blown Chicago away and the clubs would have never had their third shooutout of the season with the Hawks winning two of them.

This outcome could have easily been a 4-2, 5-2 defeat for the Hawks and a real downer in front of the home folks. In keeping with the Veterans Day theme, the Hawks were missing in action for the first two periods.

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Toews' head and heart are winning combo again for Blackhawks; Bolland out with back surgery

toews-kings.jpgJonathan Toews is comfort food. He's fried chicken. He's popcorn. He's chocolate cake.

Feeling stressed about the Blackhawks' prospects? Here's Johnnnny! Ready to just throw himself into the glass in jubilation at the thrill of scoring a goal in his first game following his concussion hiatus.

He can give us all the swan flu, contagiously making us smile as he takes flight.

Vancouver's Willie Mitchell should have known that he could never turn the unflappable, unquenchable Winnipeg wonder into a head case, no matter how big the blow that sent the center into momentary memory lapse and into the land of the lost.

For a guy who everyone claims doesn't have much to say, that joy of life moment of Toews wiping the glass behind the net Monday night against Los Angeles with unrestrained vigor can sell untold tickets and earn this city's respect and enduring love for the way he goes about his business.

He will be asked to shoulder an even larger load now that the inevitable has happened and center Dave Bolland will have back surgery, perhaps sidelining him as much as two months, although the team says he is out indefinitely and won't guess at a return. There aren't many good options to replace second liner Bolland, so I think Toews being twice as good is the preferable alternative.

And who's to say he can't be? For Toews, there is no current limit to his potential. No matter who subs for Bolland, it's up to Toews to plug the gap with his ability to rise to challenges.

Toews copies Walter Payton's body language. That tells you the rose-strewn path he is traveling into Chicago history. Just like Payton, Toews exudes ease of effort in everything he does, as well as exuberance, discipline, steely grit and a merry twinkle in the eye that promises innocent mischief when the time is right.

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Kane, Burish had no intent to defame in their Halloween blackfaces

hawksblackface.jpg

Patrick Kane has become a lightning rod with amazing positive and negative electrical charges.

When I first saw pictures posted on the internet Monday of Kane and the irrepressible Adam Burish at a Blackhawks' Halloween party dressed admiringly as old heroes Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman, replete with black-face, I figured trouble would be ahead.

Kane can skate around defenders with his speed. But he has yet to learn how to repel trouble when he looks it in the eye.

It didn't take long until the RedEye's Ernest Wilkins, an African-American who works there as a social media intern, posted on Chicago Now. He focused on Kane, of course, rather than Burish because only one of those guys is a star.

"It's interesting being a Black (feel free to sub in Latino/Woman/actual Penguin at your will) hockey fan sometimes," Wilkins wrote. "We don't see a lot of players that look like us, and we want more people out there to look up to on the ice. Stuff like this doesn't help."

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Does Bowman have to make Blackhawks' salary-cap trade in four months?

sharp-montreal.jpgThere may be just 52 shopping days until Christmas after today, but more importantly for the Blackhawks just four months now stands between them and the NHL trading deadline.

Already, there has been speculation about the team being forced at that time to deal away one or more players who are significant factors in their lineup to assure they have salary cap breathing room immediately after the season to sign restricted free agents Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith and avoid the dreaded offer sheets that could drag take them away like pirates in the night to other ports of call.

Although there's another argument that offer sheets are made for inflationary times, not for recessions (or just emerging out of recession), and bidders could be an imaginary threat out there, no more than financial phantoms. Just imagining losing Kane, Toews or Keith is damn frightening, however, so much so the boogeyman wins this one.

Can the Hawks really afford to part with either Patrick Sharp or Kris Versteeg by early March, late in what could be a championship run? The Toronto Sun's Bruce Garrioch recently pointed to them, along with defenseman Brian Campbell, as possible trade candidates in four months.

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Youth is served as Kane, Versteeg energize Hawks to a 3-2 win

Patrick Kane sometimes is overshadowed by Jonathan Toews. Some people like to claim Toews will eventually be the one that emerges as the better player.

I'm not one of those people. I hate to hang the Jerry Lewis label on him. But Lewis got the laughs while Dean Martin performed the smooth setup, and more people remember Lewis today than straight-man Martin.

I'm afraid that's how it going to be with Kane and Toews. Nothing wrong with being Martin. Toews can look forward to being a ladies man like Dean, but Kane is going to get all the laughs--and I would guess all the best-looking women, too, who like to run wild.

Toews looks like the marrying kind. Kane looks like trouble, both to defenseless defenders on the ice as he floats by and the babes rattling the ice cubes with their vodka as he breezes into the bar.

Kane didn't score a goal in Friday night's 3-2 victory over Montreal at United Center, but he had a direct hand in two of them and tacked on a pair of assists that really were the only things the Blackhawks did easily against an opponent they should have blown out.

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Hard to get over Seabrook being named NHL's most underrated player

seabrookunder.jpgI have been advised by the all-seeing internet, where small items end up recycled more than yesterday's newspaper (and I definitely mean yesterday, just ask Sam Zell, who is wondering on Bloomberg how the hell he can get all those dirty black-and-white print marks rubbed off his fingers), that we have been underrating Brent Seabrook all this time.

You could knock me down with a feather. Please do me a favor and make it The Fifth Feather, one of my favorite and most lucid websites in breaking down the Blackhawks into delectable bite-sized pieces, perfect for the kiddies on Halloween.

Duncan Keith, I'm told by The Hockey News, used to be underrated. That's also so yesterday. The story says Seabrook's ambitious partner in grime has graduated to full respectability, which sounds like a dull place to me, while leaving Seabrook to wallow alone in the NHL underclass.

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Good news is the Blackhawks are starring without 'a star' in sight

kaneminnesota.jpgThe Blackhawks don't have "A STAR."

And that's the good news.

They have a few excellent talents. They have a youthful flame of energy that burns red hot. They have some good, solid pluggers. They have an amazing depth to fall back on when injuries impede the team.

But no young Michael Jordan. And that's the good news. One guy isn't trying to hog the ice and be the main show at the expense of the team.

I remember former Chicago sportswriter Jerome Holtzman, a baseball expert, used to like to moonlight a couple times a winter on the Bulls just to point out early in Jordan's career for his buddy, owner Jerry Reinsdorf, that the Bulls would never win a championship as a one-man band, no matter how many ridiculous points Jordan racked up in a single night.

That, of course, changed eventually with Jordan maturing and the team improving. And perhaps one day Patrick Kane will be a modern-day Bobby Hull and carry a well-rounded Hawks team on his back with some silly-high numbers.

Until that happens, as Kane said, his teammates just consider him the Miley Cyrus of this diverse group. That is without Annie Leibovitz taking some risque photos of Kane with his pants down and his Blackhawks jersey at half-mast, like she did with Cyrus.

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Blackhawks face snake in their blooming garden: a slithering, slimy power play

maddenatcrease2.jpgSo I expect you think the Blackhawks' power play looks shaky? So I expect you think it's only a matter of time until it improves what with all the major injuries and such as an excuse?

But based on the numbers from last season's production, it might never really get better without major cosmetic surgery. What you've seen might be what you get--again.

I think I must warn you as a public service that there is a snake slithering loose among those sweet-smelling flowers and threatening the team's promising start to the season.

If coach Joel Quenneville and his staff can't figure out a systematic, consistent way to turn this advantage into a plus rather than a minus, you have to question if there is an inflamed Achilles heel that will eat away at the Hawks bit by bit all season, eventually bringing them down short of a championship like a cancerous, fatal enemy within.

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Blackhawks show Havlat what he's missing; Huet shines in beating Minnesota 3-1

Martin Who?

Martin Havlat is so far out of the picture it's a wonder anybody thought the Blackhawks may miss last season's team-leading scorer even a little bit, at least until Marian Hossa returns in a few weeks to take over the top offensive role.

Havlat made an early run at goaltender Cristobal Huet Monday night, but Huet stopped him nicely. That set the tone for a strong first period from Huet, who allowed only a power-play score in the third period that kept him from recording a second straight shutout at United Center and putting to bed any conflicts between him and the fans.

Nashville and the Wild are not offensive powerhouses, and yet Huet's 3-1 triumph against Minnesota (following his shutdown performance against the Predators) has swelled the Hawks' record to 7-3-1 and ballooned their overall confidence. He has started to roll and certainly joined his teammates in establishing a solid start to the season.

To have won two straight games since the concussion loss of important cogs Jonathan Toews and Brent Seabrook speaks again to the Hawks' depth of talent. Say what you will about defenseman Brent Sopel, but he has been an able partner for Duncan Keith in place of Seabrook, while center Dave Bolland has stepped up his effort with Toews sidelined.

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Eye-for-an-eye hockey culture blindsides Blackhawks in Vancouver loss

canucks.jpgI attended Loyola University for 3 1/2 years, but I only graduated from F. U. magna come loudly.

Quite a few ignoramus graduates from F. U. So belligerent alumni meetings become a daily occurrence as we cross one another's paths in search of enlightment from people who were smart enough to avoid all the shit F. U. stands for and walk the straight and narrow.

So I seek your guidance here.

We now anxiously await breaking news, although hopefully not from an indecipherable Joel Quenneville, our own Doctor No. He could convey as much critical information if he spoke solely in mandarin Chinese in his post-game post mortems. In fact, I'd recommend it with that NHL initiative of going global.

Let's hope the Blackhawks whistle a timeout for Q to study some 5-on-3 diagrams, opting instead to bring out a more precise specialist to inform us if Jonathan Toews' brain scan Thursday showed us worrisome waves of scrambled eggs with spicy Tabasco or simply benign spots of Rice Krispies.

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Vancouver seeks bloody redemption against Hawks team it 'doesn't like'

roberto6.jpgApparently no one has convinced the Vancouver Canucks there are no big games in October. By the sound of it, there will be blood Wednesday night at the United Center.


"We don't like them very much, and they don't like us," the Canucks' Shane O'Brien said.
If you haven't noticed, blood runs just as red in the fall as the spring.


"We have an edge going in there to play them again," Willie Mitchell boasted.


Pretty bold talk from a Canucks team that hasn't been playing very well.


Forget for the moment that Cristobal Huet's chance at redemption has been delayed. Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo arrives in town saying that payback is on his agenda after he failed another huge challenge in the Western Conference semifinals last May that tainted a mostly high-profile resume.


Shakespeare never set the stage for a better passion play. Luongo uttered a single word to Vancouver media when asked what returning to the scene to avenge his playoff murder really meant to him.


"Redemption," he said, perhaps in his best raspy Goalfather imitation.

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Skille takes another fall with Blackhawks; can small Ebbett rise to the occasion?

ebbett.jpgIf wannabe Jack Skille was pulling his weight for the Blackhawks, which would be that of a promising first-round draft pick from 2005, I don't think it would matter one bit that his salary cap hit was $1.25 million this season.

If he was what the Blackhawks wanted and had them excited about his progression, he would still be in the NHL today and preparing for Wednesday night's game against Vancouver, not out of sight, out of mind in Rockford, stuck in the minors because he costs too much.

Yes, they went cheaper by claiming center Andrew Ebbett from Anaheim on waivers and simply plugging him into Skille's recent role on the fourth line. Ebbett's salary cap hit is only $475,000.

But is it all about the money or it all about Skille, who had a goal and an assist in five games played this year and was a minus-two?

Remember, these are the Blackhawks that don't care what it costs to win the Stanley Cup as shown in their summer showering of money here and there to various free agents. That leads me to believe it's all about Skille and not all about the money.

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Huet plays just "fine" as Blackhawks beat Nashville 3-1

Let's talk about media and over-hyping. I was involved in that at times when I was a Chicago sportswriter.

I was informed someone recently referred to me in an internet post as a douchebag hack. I have to tell you, it makes me warm and fuzzy all over to be remembered.

You get involved with teams, you get close to some players and management and you sell their bill of goods. It's happened for decades and it's happening now.

Payoffs? Well, it's not that blatant. But it's all the same. Some media are in the tank and swimming with the sharks, even if they have never been more than guppies.

That's why the media is fed, parked, pampered and preened. Teams want them to be their supposedly unbiased frontmen.

To me, Pat Foley and Eddie O-My were trying to sell us Cristobal Huet Thursday night as much as if they were peddling SHAM-WOW. They were waxing us big-time.

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Blackhawks should be heartened by THE LID blowing off Detroit

wings-sabres.jpgThe Blackhawks couldn't ask for a finer, brighter day off in gray, dank Chicago than they had Tuesday. They re-energized from that marvelous makeup date Monday night with fans who started out doing a slow burn before falling in love all over again.

Then came Tuesday: A RED-LETTER DAY where they could smell blood in the water just across the lakes.

While their team undoubtedly has a few problems to correct heading into Wednesday night's game against Edmonton in Chicago, depending on the exact weight you assess to goaltending complexities, the Detroit Red Wings have GIANT-SIZED HICCUPS that appear to out-weigh the Hawks' occasional roller-coasting play to begin the season.

Nothing better than to have coach Mike Babcock also have to jerk starting goaltender Chris Osgood out of a lopsided 6-2 loss in Buffalo Tuesday night. Maybe GALLOPING GOALITIS is a disease far more contagious than swine flu in the central part of the U. S.

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Huet still the 1 in some eyes, but don't let him face Khabby

tuesdaymorning.jpgLet's take a leisurely morning skate to shake off the cobwebs after Monday night's fright fest at the United Center turned into a Blackhawks' lovefest.
Like starting the night with Joan Rivers and ending up in bed with Jessica Simpson just a couple hours later. Wild ride.
It's worth peeking behind the curtain of the all-seeing blog world, where some eyes didn't blink over goalie Cristobal Huet giving up three goals before some fans could finish their first beer. The six-goal comeback for an overtime win after being down and counted out 5-0 in the opening frame was not without its burning issues the morning after that won't be as easily resolved as the game was by Brent Seabrook's overtime goal.
In fact, some bloggers want Huet starting again Wednesday night against Edmonton's Nikolai Khabibulin at the UC. While I believe Andy Niemi should get a shot to be the starter since his glove save from a 1-on-1 matchup with Olli Jokinen actually kept the tide flowing with the Hawks at a crucial junction. But others think I'm nuttier than a fruitcake and there's plenty of evidence to make that verdict stick.
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Blackhawks' tremendous 6-5 comeback win masks major problems in goal

If there were more NHL games like this, there would be a few million more hockey fans.

Who says there isn't enough offense in hockey? Not the Blackhawks, who crawled out of a 5-0 hole to win 6-5 in overtime against Calgary on Brent Seabrook's goal.

The back story is that Cristobal Huet is finished as the starting goalie. Not even his mother would start him now. I gave peace a chance. To hell with that. Now I'm willing to declare war--again.

Huet has to be out and Andy Niemi in as the starting goalie. Nothing else makes sense. Huet allowed the first three goals, while Niemi looked a little shaky after replacing him in the first period and giving up two more, but enough from the suck-up Huet defenders.

He sucks. He blows. He stinks. When Nikolai Khabibulin comes to town Wednesday with Edmonton to play the Hawks, coach Joel Quenneville might make a mistake and send Khabby into goal in place of Huet, as he did last season.

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Blackhawks primed to go 6-2 on United Center ice in October

homeice2.jpgI think everyone agrees the Blackhawks are a really good, really injury-deprived team still in search of themselves. They have occasionally chased their own tails like a new puppy and gone round and round looking for some glue that will goose their fans higher and higher.

And yet with all the probings and missed possibilities, they are 2-1-1. Nothing wrong in that, especially having the added burden of traveling to Finland to open the season. Some needed glue sniffing should make things better, though.

By the end of October, I predict they will be sticking together better and farther ahead on their voyage of discovery than a year ago. And that should have Stanley Cup dreams alive and well in Chicago.

With seven games being played in the friendly igloo of United Center from their next nine affairs scheduled this month, beginning Monday night against Calgary, the Hawks should be waving around an imposing record of 8-4-1 when the calendar turns from those goblins of October to the gobblers of November.

Play along with me here as I outline my path to 6-3 in the next nine games. I have been wrong once before (maybe twice) in my life, so perhaps you can set me straight with your view of the future. Although I should warn you that many have tried to get me on a clear path and failed.

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Losing isn't everything; let's give peace a chance with Hawks, Huet

peaceprize.jpgIf President Obama can win the Nobel Peace Prize, so can I.

I'm sociopathic rather than a socialist, but that shouldn't disqualify me.

That was a pretty nice 3-2 loss for the Blackhawks Thursday night in Detroit. No, I mean it. I'm serious here. Some encouraging stuff overall.

Don't be making faces at me. I can see you through this screen. I'm being honest, which I do so infrequently it may seem odd, I know.

They did a lot of good things. Played hard for the most part. Battled to the end. They won't lose this well all season. A very solid failure for early October.

Plus, Detroit didn't look all that imposing. You can see the Red Wings are more vulnerable. You can see where the Hawks can emerge on top of them before it's over.

The Hawks weren't outplayed as much as they were out-lucked, out-finessed, out-thought and out-finished. Those things will happen in a 82-game regular season.

Don't waste your vitriol. Save it for those long winter nights when some temper will keep you warm.

There are also going to be some downright ugly nights when it looks like all is lost. Those will be the tough defeats that raise doubts, but not this one.

And while I'm pursuing peace at all costs, let me clear up any misconceptions that I have been a little too hard on goalie Cristobal Huet. My goodness, where could you have gotten that idea?

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WILCO, Blackhawks team up to sing new song; fans will comply

tweedy.jpgEven a cantankerous, crusty neanderthal like me, who started out as a choirboy accompanying Bobby Darin in singing "Splish Splash I was taking a bath long about a Saturday night," can like Wilco. And you know why?

Because I'm so misunderstood, just as Jeff Tweedy and the boys have said so eloquently. And I'm honest when I'm tellin a lie.

Not to mention that I'm short on long term goals. And like the guitar player taken for a ride, I ain't never satisfied.

And if you have no idea what I'm talking about, step to the back of the line with all the rest of the facists. You facists are bound to lose.

Bill Wirtz used to like to tell stories about Sonja Henie, a Norwegian ice goddess from a former generation who skated her way into fluffy American musical comedies when they were vogue and the Blackhawks were a modern marvel in Chicago.

But in another reminder that the present hockey age has moved from daylight snoring time overnight at United Center to the sunshine express, the Blackhawks have teamed up with Chicago-rooted band Wilco just to assure us they are relevant again.

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Kane will have Blackhawks first 100-point season since Roenick in '94

kanefinland.jpgPatrick Kane is on pace for a 164-point season. Not too bad, and every reason to take a limo wherever he goes, even if it's to the 7-11 for a slurpee.

Of course, he may get better since we are only two games into the season. In which case his current 2 points a game won't be enough to contain him and the Chicago record book might be set ablaze before it's over.

Denis Savard holds the Blackhawks record with 131 points in 1987-88. He scored 44 goals and chipped in 87 assists.

That milestone could be under assault if Kane can sustain another rocketman start to his year and not encounter a prolonged slump as the winter grinds on. The older he gets, the more you suspect the precocious Kane will scale heights that the Hawks haven't seen from anybody in years.

Savard turned 27 years of age in February, 1988, on his way to his best scoring year ever that '87-88 season. Kane will celebrate his 21st birthday Nov. 19. Savard's first 100-point effort was in 1981-82 when he turned 21 in Feb. I look for Kane to reach triple digits, too, at 21.

He might not be ready yet for 131 points. But he'll sneak into the low 100s somehow and I'll make my case for that argument a little later.

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Blackhawks offense looks good until Huet comes to a bad ending in 4-3 loss

Patrick Kane traveled more than 4,000 miles from Chicago to find himself in the right place at the right time Friday in the season opener in Finland.

That was a welcome change of pace for him after the 20-year-old Blackhawks winger was forced to explain this summer how he came to be in the wrong place at the wrong time night-clubbing and cabbie-clubbing in Buffalo when he was playing on the dawn patrol.

But goalie Cristobal Huet lost a one-goal lead in regulation with 2:21 remaining and allowed two goals in the shootout, including the second goal of the game for Finnish defenseman Ville Koistinen to the delight of the home folks, and Florida beat Chicago 4-3 after surviving a strong Blackhawks' offensive charge.

David Booth tied the score 3-3 in the waning minutes of regulation when defenseman Brent Seabrook failed to clear his own zone and Booth skated in free. Wouldn't you know it. Booth was born in Detroit. Bad omen right there to have Detroit involved in any way in what was a crushing setback mentally.

The Hawks dominated the final period and still couldn't put the Panthers away. Huet doesn't get all the blame. But unless he can make a bigger difference in the clutch, the Hawks won't be as good as advertised. Perhaps backup Andy Niemi can replace him and star, but so far Niemi is an unknown.

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