Bulls continue quest for top seed in East vs. Hawks

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Bulls continue quest for top seed in East vs. Hawks

Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Posted: 3:06 p.m.
By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

ATLANTA--For the second straight night, the Bulls will have revenge in mind. After thoroughly dispatching the Kings Monday night to extend their winning streak at the United Center and avenge Sacramento's 35-point comeback last season in Chicago, Tuesday the Bulls hope to erase the more recent memory of the Hawks' 19-point comeback earlier March 2 in Atlanta.

Following their own failed overtime comeback Saturday in Indiana, ending an eight-game winning streak, a refocused Bulls team took out their frustrations on the lowly Kings, resulting in a 40-point laugher and the team's 50th victory of the season, in which all five starters scored in double figures. With only 13 regular-season games remaining, more of the same will be required for Chicago to keep pace with Boston in the race for the East's No. 1 spot and home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Gaining the top spot is additionally crucial, as a first-round matchup with the young Pacers, the leading candidate for the conference's eighth seed is considered more favorable than facing either the surging 76ers or the free-falling yet dangerous Knicks, who are locked in a battle for the sixth seed. Moreover, the East's top seed, whether it's Chicago, Boston or even still-lurking Miami--how soon people forget the Heat's impressive December and January run--will have the luxury of avoiding one of the other two consensus Finals contenders in the conference in the second round, likely facing off with the Magic or Hawks.

The Bulls are regarded as having a friendlier slate down the season's stretch--their remaining opponents include the likes of the Bucks, Timberwolves, Pistons, Raptors, Cavaliers and Nets--than the Celtics, but they can't afford lackluster efforts in challenging games, such as Tuesday evening's affair at Atlanta's Phillips Arena. Capitalizing on both their momentum and good fortune would not only benefit their good fortune, but display the maturity evident of a potential NBA champion.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

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Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Lightning tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Lightning tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Grab the first goal.

The Blackhawks have scored the game's first goal in seven of the last eight games, and of those seven, they've won six of them. Meanwhile, the Lightning have scored the first goal only 17 times in 48 games this season, and are 12-5-1 in those games. They're 9-17-4 when they allow the first goal, so getting out to a lead first will be important against a struggling Lightning team looking for signs of life.

2. Will the floodgates open for Jonathan Toews?

After a four-point game in a 4-2 win over Vancouver, the Blackhawks captain matched his point total over his previous nine games. He's up to 26 points on the season, which is now fifth among Chicago forwards. When Toews has offensive droughts, they usually last longer than they should. But when he gets hot, he gets extremely hot. Perhaps we'll see the floodgates open offensively.

3. A chance for the team lead in scoring.

With an empty-net goal on Sunday, Marian Hossa tied Artem Anisimov for the team-lead with 18 goals. Artemi Panarin is right behind with 17, and Patrick Kane isn't far either at 15. The Blackhawks had four 20-goal scorers last season, and haven't had more than that since the 2013-14 season. They're definitely on pace to hit four, but could they surprass that? Richard Panik, who scored another goal Sunday as well, is fifth with 11 goals while Ryan Hartman has 10. Toews is at eight, but a flurry after a drought could make things interesting.

4. The triplets reunited?

In an effort to jumpstart a struggling offense, Lightning coach Jon Cooper reunited the triplets line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat that was so successful during their 2015 playoff run in their latest game, a 5-3 loss to Arizona. It's unclear whether they will begin tonight's game on the same line, but if not, it's worth watching throughout the game whether they do. The Blackhawks have been coming at opponents in waves lately, so Cooper could look to separate the three to distribute the scoring.

5. Take advantage on special teams.

The Lightning have racked up the fifth-most penalty minutes in the league, and own a bottom-10 penalty kill unit at 80.1 percent. The Blackhawks are the second-least penalized team, and have converted on 17.9 percent of their power plays, which sits at 16th. But they haven't scored one on the man advantage in five straight games, going 0-for-9 during that span. Here's a chance to change that.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

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