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Blackhawks Tue Nov 18 2008

High wire act vacates UC for circus

With the annual circus trip commencing tonight, the Hawks find themselves away from the sold-out atmosphere of the United Center and on the road for the first real test of the season. After playing 11 of their first 16 games at home, where the franchise is leading the NHL in attendance, a 6-game trip to points west and north will be a challenge for the Blackhawks, who have compiled a 1-3-1 record on the road so far this season.

While the team had yet to lose in regulation at home until a 6-5 defeat at the hands of the NHL-leading San Jose Sharks Sunday, the Blackhawks begin the trip in Phoenix tonight stuck in neutral. Despite some particularly tense, nail-biting contests, the Hawks closed the homestand having gone 0-1-2 and are looking to get back to their winning ways. Following Phoenix, the Blackhawks celebrate Patrick Kane's 20th birthday tomorrow before battling Dallas Thursday, then heading to Toronto to take on the Maple Leafs Saturday.

Next week sees a return engagement with the Sharks in San Jose Wednesday, then a Thanksgiving celebration in sunny Los Angeles before back-to-back games against the Anaheim Ducks and L.A. Kings. The Blackhawks 7-4-5 record is their best start since 2002, but the trip represents a number of challenges. It will be the first extended trip under new coach Joel Quenneville, and will get the team into hostile arenas and crowds after establishing a comfort zone with the record-setting attendance at the UC. Given the team's 5 overtime/shootout losses as well, it's critical the Hawks find a way to capture some points in tight games to stay in the midst of the Western Conference race.

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