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Blackhawks Tue Nov 19 2013

Blackhawks Hit The Road For Annual Circus Trip

Thumbnail image for GB blackhawks icon.png It's that time of year again, Blackhawks fans. When the brown leaves begin to blanket the frosted ground below and the Ringling Brothers, along with Barnum and Bailey, make their way to the west side with exotic tigers and elephants held against their will. It only can mean one thing for the defending Stanley Cup champions: road trip!

For the next two weeks, the Blackhawks will take their high-flying act on a West coast, southwest swing, which starts tonight in Colorado against the suddenly cold Avalanche. Both teams are two of the top-five in scoring in the entire league with the Blackhawks first at 3.57 goals per game and the Avalanche fifth at 3.10 goals per game.

The Avalanche opened the season plowing over anyone in their way, winning their first six games. Former goalie and new Avs coach Patrick Roy had his team playing as furious as his attack on the partition between he and Anaheim Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau at the onset of the season. (The future Hall-of-Famer always has been a bit of a hot head. The childish act was in response to Anaheim's Ben Lovejoy's hit on Avalanche rookie Nathan MacKinnon. Boudreau called the act "bush league," Roy was fined $10,000 and the partition eventually was refastened.)

However, the last three games have seen this team come back to earth, losing their last at home against the Florida Panthers by the final of 4-1. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks rebounded with a 5-1 win at home over the San Jose Sharks after getting clubbed on the road the night before in Nashville.

It was the game against the Predators that backup goalie Nikoai Khabibulin got the start, only to be pulled after pulling a muscle in a save attempt. Khabi has had a rough go of things leading into this game, surrendering upwards of five goals per game with an .811 save percentage. Corey Crawford was forced to come in and didn't look much better; however, not much could be expected of Crawford after he played the previous six games in a row -- six and one-half if you count his coming in to relieve Khabi once again against Ottawa.

With that said, Antti Raanta makes the trip from Rockford to take the place of Nikolai while on this trip. For those who might not remember, Raanta was signed back on June 3 to a one-year contract out of SM-liiga in Finland and has been playing quite well for the Ice Hogs, going 7-5 with a 2.83 goals-against average and .914 save percentage. Yes, those are AHL stats, but Raanta should provide a little more confidence in head coach Joel Quenneville in an effort to give Crawford a little rest along the way.

Making his triumphant return on the circus trip is Kris Versteeg, who certainly loves himself a good road trip with his buddy Kaner. Versteeg had a bumpy first game with the Blackhawks in Nashville, but bounced back nicely the next night at home, scoring a goal and adding an assist.

RELATED: KRIS VERSTEEG RETURNS TO THE BLACKHAWKS FOR HAYES AND OLSEN

Making his first circus trip as a full-timer is Brandon Pirri, who has been playing well as of late, scoring goals in three straight games. Pirri's sudden scoring surge is due in part to Patrick Kane's nightly magic act with the puck in distributing it to his second-line center.

Even though the road ahead for this trip is just beginning and seems long, dark and cold, the light and warmth of well-traveled Blackhawks fans should provide a spark for this team as seen throughout most of this season. The next time the defending champs are back on home ice, all the turkey will have been eaten and Jay Cutler will (probably) be back under center. Late-night viewing makes for groggy work days, but the real "Greatest Show on Earth" begins its tour tonight. Snuggle up under your blanket and enjoy.

 
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