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Tuesday, October 22

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Blackhawks Wed Dec 23 2009

Hawks look to play Grinch to Central foes

Following last night's disheartening 3-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks, the Blackhawks find themselves facing off against two of their biggest divisional rivals over the holidays, beginning with a game in Detroit tonight before a home-and-home series with the Nashville Predators on Saturday and Sunday. Chicago will also offer a present to fans Christmas night with the premiere of Blackhawks TV at 7:30 p.m. on Comcast Sportsnet, an all-access look at the organization and its players.

The Hawks find themselves facing the injury-plagued Red Wings twice in one week, following a 3-0 shutout Sunday at the United Center in a game that Chicago dominated for long stretches. While the Hawks lost in Detroit to open the continental season in October, the Wings find key pieces like Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Dan Cleary and Niklas Kronwall, among the 8 players missing from their lineup this go-round. Given the strength of the Blackhawks this season, it's possible this may be a shifting of the guard in a division the Wings have long dominated, but Detroit isn't going to go down without a fight, as they showed in the playoffs last spring with a 4-1 series victory. However, that was a vastly different Wings team, and following the disappointing loss last night Chicago will be looking to reassert their winning ways.

In fact, the defeat last night was the first misstep for the Hawks at home since Dec. 4 (against Nashville), as the team has taken advantage of a a favorable schedule to go 6-2 at home this month (and 7-3 overall). The Sharks took revenge from the 7-2 rout the Blackhawks laid on them in San Jose the night before Thanksgiving in a game that saw San Jose goalie Evgeni Nabakov stymie the Hawks all night long. Chicago outshot San Jose by a staggering 47-14 amount and got goals from Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa, but could not capitalize on a powerplay that went 0-for-7 on the night (an area the team has been struggling with all year). San Jose's victory broke a tie atop the conference between the two teams, leaving Chicago with 49 points to San Jose's 51, though the Blackhawks have two games in hand.

Though San Jose and Detroit are teams Chicago is looking to join and surpass in the top echelon of the league, a look in the rearview mirror finds a surprising Nashville Predators team hot on the Hawks' heels. The Preds enter today just two points behind the Blackhawks in the division, and the home-and-home holiday weekend battle could find them taking over the top spot in the Central division. The Blackhawks went 2-1 against Nashville in October, but the Predators have gone 17-6-2 since, including that Dec. 4 win over the Hawks at the United Center. Nashville's a well-rounded team that doesn't do anything particularly well, but coach Barry Trotz always has them in the thick of the playoff chase, and goaltender Pekka Rinne has been elevating his game to new heights. The pair of games will be the last time the Hawks and Preds face off this season, leaving the division race to how the duo fare against the rest of the league.

 
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