Thursday, March 10, 2011
by Chris Boden
There were impressive displays of urgency (if not always 60 minutes of playoff-like intensity) during the Blackhawks eight-game winning streak. They'll need even greater degrees of that on Sunday and Monday, when they visit Washington and return home to host San Jose.
The availability of Brian Campbell and Dave Bolland will be in question. Campbell's lower body injury made him unavailable Wednesday in Tampa Bay after perhaps his best stretch of the season -- five points in as many games to lift him to an NHL-leading plus-28 on the season. Bolland had not only generated 22 points in his previous 24 games but had helped get Marian Hossa back on his game, before being on the receiving end of Pavel Kubina's cheap-shot elbow to the head early in Wednesday's game. It's ironic that Campbell could be unavailable against Alex Ovechkin, who ended his regular season a month early a year ago with his hit on Campbell from behind and into the boards. The Hawks also have yet to prove this season they can beat San Jose in general, and former teammate Antti Niemi in particular. It would be nice to have the proof they can, should a playoff date loom down the road.
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That was an important point earned Wednesday, and very well could've been two if the NHL had followed its own shootout guidelines when it came to Martin St. Louis' shot. Then again, the Hawks have shutout in the shootout on the road this season. Yes, getting four points against the Caps and Sharks would be ideal, especially considering the possible health issues. But grabbing two to three points out of that back-to-back is of utmost importance when you survey the schedule beyond that. After Monday's game, the defending champs play just three games over the following 11 days, potentially getting passed in the standings by several teams in that stretch. Consider what most of the other Western contenders will be doing over that week-and-a-half:
Detroit and San Jose (already ahead of the Hawks) will play five times, as will Calgary, Los Angeles and Anaheim. While the Hawks still have three meetings left with the Wings, just one meeting with the Ducks remains from among those other four after Monday. Nashville and Phoenix will play six times over those 11 days, including a Coyotes-Hawks matchup in Glendale. The Hawks are done with the Preds, who'll play five times at home over the six they'll play. Dallas and Minnesota each play four games in that span, including the Stars' final matchup with the Hawks in Big D in a week.
Sure, the schedule will eventually even out when all's said and done exactly one month from today. But as we've been preaching before and during the hot streak that's positioned what's been a healthy Hawks squad in a good spot for the time being, continuing to move forward (unlike the puck on St. Louis' shootout attempt) makes the job later easier. But nothing really seems very easy, since no one in the West seems willing to stand still.
Chris Boden is the host of Blackhawks Pre and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet.