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Blackhawks Fri Jan 21 2011

Hawks Ready For Rivalry Weekend

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for blackhawks.gifThe Blackhawks provide a solid undercard to Sunday's battle of heavyweights at Soldier Field, with a pair of big rivalry games of their own this weekend: Saturday at 1 p.m. at Detroit and Sunday at 11:30 a.m. against visiting Philadelphia, their opponent in last year's Stanley Cup Finals.

The hated Red Wings still lead the Central Division with 62 points, but they've been hit hard by injuries to Pavel Datsyuk, Tomas Holmstrom, Mike Modano, Dan Cleary and Brad Stuart. To make matters worse, goalies Jimmy Howard and Chris Osgood both are ailing, though Howard was in net Thursday. Detroit still is second in the league with 3.34 goals per game and its power play remains strong even without the missing skaters, but this is not a team at full strength.

The Flyers have picked up right where they left off last season, as they lead the league with 67 points. They're averaging 3.43 goals per game, best in the league, and their defense will be buoyed by the return of Chris Pronger, who was back in action Thursday against Ottawa after missing six weeks with a broken foot. Philly won't have playoff hero Michael Leighton in net Sunday -- he's currently in the minors after struggling back from injury -- but the tandem of Brian Boucher and rookie Sergei Bobrovsky have been stalwart. They're not rivals on the level of the Red Wings, but Philly is sure to be looking to prove a point on a national stage after last season's Cup finals.

The Hawks enter the weekend having won four of their past five games, and a rare five-day break in the schedule has provided a chance to relax, recuperate and hopefully refocus on the parts of their game that still need work. While the overall defense has improved in the last month, the penalty kill is still at an atrocious 77.4 percent. Chicago's PK did shut out its opponents in two games before letting Nashville go 2-for-6 last Sunday, but whether progress has truly been made will be tested against two of the league's better offenses.

Chicago's offense has been on a tear, with 17 goals in the past four games, but secondary players like Troy Brouwer and Dave Bolland have been leading the way rather than stars like Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa, who each have only two goals since returning from injuries in late December. If the Hawks want to solidify their playoff positioning, they need these two to start finding the back of the net with more often.

So don't forget about hockey this weekend. These games will go a long way toward showing whether the Blackhawks can make a postseason run of their own this spring.

 
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