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Sunday, July 21

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Pucks in Five

All Good News
by Jeremy Piniak

One: Win Win Win!
Finally, the floodgates opened for the Hawks, as an offensive onslaught sparked the team to two huge wins to finish a seven-game road trip, before returning home Sunday and dominating Colorado in a 2-1 victory. Wednesday’s 7-2 throttling of Columbus was followed by a 6-1 rout of a streaking Nashville team that had been 8-1-1 at home since the start of the year. For a team that had struggled to put the puck in the net the past month and a half, the crooked numbers on the scoreboard are a welcome sight.

One of the main factors has been the return of rookie forward Jonathon Toews from a knee injury. Toews has notched five points in his first four games back, and the youngster’s presence has revitalized a Blackhawks' offense that was struggling to establish any consistency. It’s no coincidence that the team’s January slump began after Toews got hurt, and the Hawks hope to ride the wave of energy from his return. In all three victories, the Hawks got on the board with a quick first-period goal, and then continued to pressure with an aggressive forecheck and cycling with an increased confidence. Combined with a strong defensive effort and superb penalty killing, the Blackhawks are playing some of their best hockey of the season, at one of the most critical points. With a pair of back-to-back contests today and tomorrow and this weekend, the team looks to build on their three-game streak and start climbing up the conference standings and reinject themselves into the playoff chase.

Two: Tradewinds Begin to Blow
With the NHL trade deadline a week from today, rumors are swirling throughout the league regarding possible deals, including a few with regards to the Blackhawks. The Hawks find themselves at a crossroads; with their recent victories leaving them only six points out of the playoff race, they could be buyers for the first time in years. However, the hot streak would need to be sustained to make a serious playoff push, and the team may be better served in the long-term by trading players to build around their young stars and free up cap space for offseason maneuvers. Two of the more prominent names mentioned are goalie Nicolai Khabibulin and forward Martin Havlat, who both earn $6 million a year.

Also rumored in the past week was GM Dale Tallon putting out a two-plus year, $11 million offer to Peter Forsberg, currently rehabbing in Sweden after several injury-plagued NHL seasons. Forsberg has been the hot name around the league, as in his prime he was a dynamic, physical, offensive player and a former MVP, but a bum foot and surgically repaired ankles left him a shell on the shelf, with questions of how much hockey he has left in him. Making such an investment on a high risk, possibly high reward player would have been a dicey move for the Hawks, and it’s hard to imagine Forsberg returning to a team that may not make the playoffs. However, news reports Monday indicated Forsberg will not return to the league this year, which returns the focus to improving the team via trade.

With four games on the slate before the Tuesday deadline, the team’s performance on the ice will have a large say in determining Tallon’s position in the market.

Three: Super Sold Out
Sunday’s game against Colorado was the team’s fifth announced sellout this year, but the crowd of 21,715 was a historic number in the history of the United Center. The team announced during the game that it was the first time ever that every possible ticket available for the game was sold, including standing-room only areas. There have been games with higher attendance numbers due to a number of luxury suites that are currently being renovated (the team’s record for attendance is 22,819 for a 1997 game against the Rangers), but to have never sold every ticket available is impressive, especially considering the team averaged crowds over 20,000 for the first two seasons in the United Center. The Madhouse on Madison is definitely back, and it’s great to see fans returning to a team that is starting to come into its own.

Four: Hockey Time in July
One of the first things mentioned when the Blackhawks hired former Cubs marketing guru John McDonough as president was the creation of a fan convention similar to the one he pioneered for the Cubs. Well, the discussed has become reality, as the team announced the first ever Hawks fan convention, slated to take place July 18-20 at the Hilton Chicago. Tickets for the event go on sale Thursday and cost $50. While the full details of the convention have yet to be announced, recently named team ambassadors Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and Tony Esposito are slated to be on hand, as well as members of the current team including Kane and Toews. Planned events include autograph signings with current and former players, Q&A sessions with players and management, including GM Dale Tallon, and exhibits and interactive games.

Five: Same Old Story
Racking up W after W, the Wolves tied a season high seven-game winning streak by taking all three contests last week. The Wolves soared past the Houston Aeros at Allstate Arena, earning a 6-1 win behind two goals from Kevin Doell. The next night in Milwaukee, Chicago survived a nailbiter on Brett Sterling’s overtime goal (his second of the night), notching a 3-2 win against the Admirals. Saturday, the Wolves traveled to Rockford for a showdown with the second place IceHogs. A fierce rivalry has developed between the two teams, and the fracas from the end of last game spilled over, as Rockford’s Kris Versteeg and the Wolves’ Jesse Schultz tussled 8 seconds into the game. From there, the game settled down and Chicago earned a solid 4-1 win, with Sterling and Bryan Little chipping in a goal and an assist each.

The winning streak has expanded the Wolves’ lead in the Western Division to seven points over the IceHogs, with four games in hand, and Chicago now leads the Western Conference with 77 points. Sterling continues to be as good as gold, notching six points in the last three games and leading the AHL with 28 goals. Tomorrow finds the Wolves facing off against the Manitoba Moose at the Allstate Arena, before a home and home series with the Iowa Stars Friday and Sunday. If the team keeps up their torrid pace, they’re on pace for the highest point total in franchise history, but anything short of a championship will be a disappointment.

Bulls in Five

by Dan & Patrick O'Neil

... is taking an All-Star Break. See you in a week.

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About the Author(s)

Jeremy Piniak grew up watching hockey on all levels and is a lifelong Blackhawks fan who, inexplicably, still has hope that Bill Wirtz will once again provide Chicago with a championship hockey team and broadcast home games on TV, though he still mourns the destruction of Chicago Stadium. Every week he'll bring you five talking points on the state of hockey in Chicago (including, whenever possible, the minor-league Wolves.) Send comments to pucks@gapersblock.com

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