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Blackhawks Wed Mar 30 2011

Injuries Have Hawks on Playoff Precipice

toews down.jpg

Jonathan Toews and the Hawks are still down and out / Tribune photo: Chris Sweda

As the reigning Stanley Cup champions continue clawing for a playoff berth, casual and avid Blackhawks fans have the same question: What happened this season?

Eighth in the Western Conference after a rousing win in Detroit and a dispiriting loss in Boston, the Hawks aren't out of the running just yet. But with six games left in the regular season, it's been a long fall from the lofty heights of last year.

Aside from the glaring fact that the Hawks lost a notable amount of players from the Cup champions, a large struggle for the team seems to be keeping remaining talent on the ice.

Both Patrick Sharp and Dave Bolland are currently out, with Sharp nursing a knee injury that could keep him out for the rest of the season and Bolland sidelined by a concussion.

The current injuries are just the latest in what seems to be a long string of hurt Hawks. Brian Campbell just returned from a foot injury that followed an illness. Before that was Jordan Hendry's season-ending ACL tear and a flu bug that wiped out Bryan Bickell and half the bench.

Did Patrick Kane drink too much beer from the Stanley Cup this summer? Did Joel Quenneville trim his mustache outside of its precise measurements? The team has clearly done something do upset the gods of hockey this season.

Injuries and illnesses happen in all sports, and hockey is no different. It's expected every season that someone will go down. The Blackhawks, however, need to invest in some sort of horseshoe or rabbit's foot.

With each injury comes the replacement of a hurt player, which shifts lines, shifts chemistry, and generally throws off the team. By the time a line adjusts to a replacement player, the injured guy is ready to return, and readjustments have to be made.

With the Blackhawks, the proof is in the pudding. Remember the eight-game win streak a few weeks ago, the one that seemingly secured their spot in the playoffs? Not one starting player was injured. The line combinations were solid and predictable with the team playing at 100 percent. The gods of hockey decided to lay off the smiting for a bit.

Then came Bolland, Campbell, Hendry and Bickell, one right after another. The streak was a distant memory as the Hawks returned to the inconsistent play we've seen all season.

With the number of remaining games dwindling each day, the Blackhawks need to look to their trainers, their lucky charms and the heavens. A broken, limping team isn't a team that's going to make playoffs, let alone hoist the Cup again.

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