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Blackhawks Fri Dec 10 2010

Hawks Hold Tight to Pick Up Needed Wins

blackhawks.gifThe Blackhawks passed their first two tests of games without stars Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane, defeating the Calgary Flames and the Dallas Stars. Both games saw the Hawks jump out to early leads, before fending off stiff challenges in the 2nd half of the game, to finally getting a sigh of relief and an empty netter to preserve the victory. Both games got a little too close for comfort, and continues an ongoing trend of the team having trouble putting games away, but with the short-handed lineup, the Hawks focusing on preserving a lead is understandable. Goalie Corey Crawford made some huge saves in the 3rd period against Dallas, but also let in a few somewhat soft goals.

Any fan of the Bears should be familiar with that bend but don't break defense, but in a game that can be decided in a split second, it's not a viable strategy. Coach Joel Quenneville's profane screaming during timeouts wouldn't be needed if the Hawks weren't surrendering successively quick goals and turning games into nailbiters. However, the wins were all that mattered, and the Hawks went 3 of 4 on their recent homestand (and are 8 of their last 11) despite the injuries and lapses and some terrible struggles on special teams.

With Kane and Hossa out, there's no question the Hawks needed some players to step up their game. Captain Jonathon Toews has been leading the way in that regard, picking up 2 goals and 2 assists in the last two games, while also winning 73% of his faceoffs. And after being moribund the first two months of the season, Dave Bolland's finally showing signs of waking up as well, with 4 points, stronger faceoffs and strong shutdown performances. Also chipping in is Bolland's linemate Bryan Bickell, with 2 goals his last two games, and rookie Jeremy Morin, who picked up his first NHL goal Wednesday while filling in for Hossa.

In net, Crawford continues his winning ways, regardless of how he gets them. There's no question the Blackhawks have been playing much better during his run, even in games where Crawford's not in top form, and the victories continue to pile up. Crawford's won 7 straight, and is within shouting distance of the overall record of 9 set by Glenn Hall. Quenneville should not hesitate to keep throwing him out there as long as the result is a W.

His next shot comes tomorrow in San Jose, as the Hawks embark on a 2-game trip before returning to the United Center for 5 straight games through Christmas. During the circus trip, the Sharks bested the Blackhawks 5-2, but Marty Turco was in net against former Hawk Antti Niemi. Chicago will have a tough matchup without Kane and Hossa, but may face Sharks goalie Antero Nittymaki instead of Niemi, who gave up 5 goals in a loss last night in Buffalo. They'll follow that with a stopover in Colorado to face the Avalanche Monday night, then a return tilt with the Avs Wednesday at the UC.

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