Hawks, Pens to battle with differing views of playoffs

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Hawks, Pens to battle with differing views of playoffs

Sunday, Feb. 20, 2011
10:17 a.m.
Associated Press

The winners of the last two Stanley Cups square off for the only time this season Sunday at the United Center.

Neither the Chicago Blackhawks nor the Pittsburgh Penguins, however, resemble their Cup-winning teams or are playing at a championship level.

The defending champion Blackhawks (29-23-6) might again be without coach Joel Quenneville as he continues to recover from gastrointestinal bleeding brought on by a small ulcer. The 52-year-old has been released from the hospital, but it is unclear when he will return to the bench.

The health of its coach isn't Chicago's only concern.

The Blackhawks are 11th in Western Conference, four points out of a playoff spot. They lost to Columbus 4-3 on Friday after earning six of eight points in their previous four games (2-0-2).

"We've got to bear down," said assistant coach Mike Haviland, who has led the team in Quenneville's absence the last two games.

While a playoff berth for Chicago diminishes with each loss, Pittsburgh looks like it will be making a fifth straight playoff appearance despite its troubles.

The Penguins (36-19-4) haven't played since beating Colorado 3-2 in overtime Wednesday, avoiding a fifth loss in six games. They are in fourth place in the East, five points behind conference-leading Philadelphia and 12 up on eighth-place Carolina, but the team has been decimated by injuries.

Superstar center Sidney Crosby hasn't played since Jan. 5 because of a concussion and Evgeni Malkin, the 2009 Conn Smythe Trophy winner, is done for the season after having surgery on his torn ACL and MCL. Forwards Arron Asham, Mike Comrie, Chris Kunitz, Mark Letestu and Eric Tangradi are also sidelined.

Amidst all these injuries, Pittsburgh will welcome the return of Matt Cooke to the lineup in Chicago after the left wing completed a four-game suspension Wednesday for a hard hit on Columbus defenseman Fedor Tyutin.

With their top three goal-scorers out (Crosby, Kunitz and Malkin), Tyler Kennedy again stepped up for the banged-up Penguins on Wednesday, scoring a power-play goal 4:10 into overtime. Kennedy has five goals in the last eight games after scoring only two in his previous 24.

"Staying focused on how we need to play," coach Dan Bylsma said. "Making sure we're playing the right way to give us a chance to have success. We've had a fair amount of success doing it. That's really been the mindset and struggle of our team - to stay in that mindset."

While Pittsburgh's roster looks different from its 2009 Stanley Cup champion team because of injuries, the Blackhawks had to part ways with several key members of last season's team because of the salary cap.

They kept their core intact, but have been receiving little production from their role players.

Against the Blue Jackets, Patrick Sharp had two goals and assisted on a score by Patrick Kane as Chicago's top line - along with Jonathan Toews - accounted for all of its offense. Kane and Toews both had two assists, and the trio has combined for 20 of the team's 38 points in the last five games.

"Those guys are game breakers," Pittsburgh right wing Craig Adams said. "We are going to pay special attention to them if we can."

This will be the first meeting between these teams since Chicago's 2-1 overtime win in Pittsburgh on Dec. 5, 2009.

"We're going keep plugging along here," Sharp said. "We're going to get on a hot streak, win some games and get ourselves right back in it."

Copyright 2010 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks return home to face Coyotes tonight on CSN

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Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Arizona Coyotes 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. Schmaltz-Toews-Panik.

There might not be a hotter line in hockey right now than the Blackhawks' trio of Nick Schmaltz, Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik. They combined for five goals and five assists — highlighted by a hat trick and five-point effort from Toews — in Tuesday's 5-3 win over Minnesota, and were hot before that. Toews has 21 points in his last 12 games. Schmaltz has seven points in his last six, while Panik has nine points in his past six. Is Joel Quenneville simply riding the hot hand or could this be a line that sticks together for a while even when they inevitably cool off?

2. Can power play get going again?

The Blackhawks are 0-for-8 on the power play in their last three games after converting on six of their previous 14 attempts. They went 2-for-4 during their last meeting, which resulted in a 4-3 victory. Arizona has allowed at least a power play goal in six of their last 10 games, including three of their last four, and owns a bottom-five penalty kill unit at 77.1 percent. If that area gets going for the Blackhawks, look out. 

3. Marian Hossa's recent success vs. Arizona.

Hossa has six goals and three assists in his last six games against the Coyotes dating back to 2014-15, recording at least a point in each of those games, and helping lead the Blackhawks to a 5-0-1 record. He's scored a goal in each of those last three, and will look to continue his success against an Arizona team whose 49 points ranked second-to-last in the NHL.

4. Martin Hanzal heating up as trade deadline nears.

The 30-year-old center has five goals in his last six contests, and will be a hot commodity over the next week as the March 1 trade deadline approaches. He could be an option for the Blackhawks if they want to bolster their center depth, but it's looking more and more unlikely as the asking price will be high and there will be many bidders. Expect a tweak more than a large addition.

5. Artemi Panarin quietly heating up.

Due to the emergence of Schmaltz-Toews-Panik that has been earning all the attention, Panarin is flying under the radar as of late. He has nine points in his last eight games that's gotten lost in the shuffle, and is tied for 16th in the league in scoring. He's only three points away from re-entering the top-10. And there's a chance he could have a big night. In five career games against Arizona, the 25-year-old Russian winger has two goals and six assists. That's an average of 1.60 points per game.

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