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Blackhawks Fri Feb 17 2012

Stay Strong, Hawks Fans

Before last night's 4-2 win at Madison Square Garden, the Blackhawks had lost nine straight games. It was an epic free fall that sparked plenty of conversation about changes -- and one win isn't going to end the questions.

Maybe the Blackhawks should ditch Joel Quenneville. Maybe it's time to trade an underperforming scorer for a decent goaltender.

Or maybe they shouldn't change a thing.

On January 20, the Blackhawks took the NHL lead from Detroit. Not long before, Coach Q had been lauded for reaching his 600th win. The team was boasting two goalies with competitive talent and increasing potential.

Little changed during the nine-game skid. It's essentially the same big names, the same goalies, the same captain and the same coaches.

Given the number of missed shots and forfeited shutouts, the blame game has commenced.

Some are ready to dump Coach Q, the same guy that brought the Stanley Cup to Chicago after a 49-year drought, the second longest in the history of the NHL. Others believe a new goalie is in order, though every fan has seen both Corey Crawford and Ray Emery make unbelievable saves.

The franchise, however, continues to back its men. Bowman has given Quenneville his vote of confidence, and though the rumor mill turns, no big trades have surfaced.

The problem isn't personnel. All of the pieces are there, but they've scattered and need to be put back together. A part of that is mental. These guys have been on the road for more than two weeks, losing in rinks filled with jeering hostility. They're not strangers to boos and insults. But, free-falling into a rut while playing away games for two weeks straight is sure to have some effect on mental focus and confidence.

Now, these players don't need coddling. But a cohesive team like this doesn't need new blood either.

They're starting to get back on track, and soon, they'll be back home in the Mad House. Now the question stands, how will they be received?

Chicago supporters are of a different breed than most. This is a city rebuilt from the ashes - and sports fans readily apply that symbol to their teams. Half of the city even vociferously supports a franchise that is arguably cursed never to win the championship title.

So, what kind of fans will fill the United Center on Sunday? Cautiously optimistic; unfailingly proud; frustrated, but ready for reconciliation? Or will fair weather fans make an appearance, shamefully equipped with a paper bag in their back pocket with which to cover their head after the game should things go south?

Will Chicago have forgotten that June night in 2010 when an entire city reverberated with choruses of Chelsea Dagger accompanied by car horns keeping beat? Shouts of giddy triumph flowed from grown men in champagne-soaked undershirts as they swung their red and white jerseys in circles over their heads on Madison Street.

Will those same celebrators readily set aside their hockey team and turn all their attention instead to the currently successful Bulls? Or will they welcome their team home with the eternal optimism of the weathered Chicagoan?

With the same team on the ice, the same fans in the stands, and a renewed mentality, the Blackhawks are more than capable of fueling the fire and making a comeback.

 
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