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Blackhawks Fri Apr 01 2011

Hawks Begin Final Push to Playoffs

hawks line.jpg

Tribune photo: Scott Strazzante

Nursing a three-point lead for the final spot in the Western Conference playoffs, the Blackhawks begin their final, six-game stretch run with a weekend double dip: tonight at Columbus and Sunday at home against Tampa Bay.

The Hawks just need to tread water for another 10 days, but after a 4-4-2 stretch, with two more games left against Detroit, there's no telling if they'll be able to hold off ninth-place twins Dallas and Calgary.

Tonight's opponent, Columbus, is having a less than impressive season, ranked 13th in the West with 80 points and a 34-31-12 record. But the Blue Jackets won 4-2 when the two teams last met in late February, Chicago's last loss before an eight-game win streak.

Despite a weak record and low spot in the standings, the Blue Jackets have proven they're not a team to take lightly. The Hawks have to come out strong in the first, putting points on the board before Columbus lead scorers Rick Nash and R.J. Umberger have a chance.

Basically, Chicago needs to play strong from start to finish and take their opponent seriously. This game should be an easy win, but this season's Hawks have been anything but consistent. If they play down to the Blue Jackets' level, they won't come out on top.

Sunday's showdown against Tampa Bay should be far more intense. The Lightning are currently ranked fifth in the Eastern Conference, and they beat Chicago in a shootout the one time the teams played this season.

A month ago, the Lightning were ranked second in their conference, and despite their fifth-place ranking still need to finish out the season strong.

The key to Sunday's game will be defense. With a solid Tampa Bay offense led by Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos and Vincent Lecavalier, the Blackhawks will need to keep the pressure consistent and keep the Lightning on the glass.

Tampa Bay's big three aren't the only ones the Hawks will need to worry about, with Teddy Purcell and Simon Gagne putting up impressive numbers this season as well.

As if the Hawks won't be busy enough keeping the puck out of their own net, someone's going to have to put points on the board from their end. With Patrick Sharp and Dave Bolland both still out with injuries, the Hawks continue to adjust to ever-changing line combinations. Joel Quenneville will need to use Friday's game to solidify the lines, and the team should all pray no one else gets hurt against Columbus. The Stalberg-Toews-Kane first line will need to step up their game and make every shot count.

Judging from the results of the past month, this weekend should be a coin toss for the Blackhawks. The next six games are a fight to the finish, likely boiling down to two nail-biters against Detroit.

 
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