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Hawks look to get it back in gear

Sunday, 03.22.2009 / 9:30 PM / The Week Ahead

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

There are times over the course of an 82-game regular season when skill and finesse just aren't enough. Every team needs a lucky bounce or break at some point -- something the Chicago Blackhawks haven't had in quite some time.

While a playoff berth seems inevitable, the Hawks would no doubt like to earn home-ice advantage for at least one round. But dropping seven of their last nine games (2-5-2) this late in the season certainly doesn't help matters.

On top of all that, it seems the Hawks have been gripping the sticks a tad tighter when forced to step into the spotlight this campaign. Could it be a sign of things to come in the Stanley Cup Playoffs?

In their biggest NHL regular season match to this point on Jan. 1 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, the Detroit Red Wings spoiled the outdoor celebration when they rallied for a 6-4 victory over the Blackhawks in the Winter Classic. Last Tuesday, the Hawks were in the nation's crosshairs again and were on the losing end -- again.

This time, the New Jersey Devils struck early en route to a 3-2 victory, enabling their future Hall of Fame goalie Martin Brodeur to surpass Patrick Roy as the winningest goalie in NHL history. The loss, coupled with a victory by Vancouver that same night, dropped the Hawks into a tie with the Canucks for the fourth seed in the Western Conference.

This is the week the Blackhawks must return to their winning ways if they have any intention of gaining some postseason momentum -- the Hawks haven't qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2002.

Chicago's four big homes games on the schedule this week, which began with a key 4-1 win Sunday over the Los Angeles Kings, could go a long way in determining its fate within the Conference. On Wednesday, the Pacific Division-leading San Jose Sharks are in town. The Hawks then host New Jersey in a rematch on Friday before meeting surging Vancouver on Sunday. Chicago fans can anticipate seeing goalie Nikolai Khabibulin between the pipes down the stretch as Cristobal Huet has won only two of his last eight starts.

"(Khabibulin) has positioned himself to get this opportunity and we're going to rely on him to get the net," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said.

"It's not easy to get out of this funk right now," said Patrick Kane, who had his five-game point-scoring streak halted in a 5-4 shootout loss to Edmonton on Friday. "But we need to (start) doing the right thing from now on."

Quenneville, whose team is 4-7-3 in their last 14, feels his club must work hard to establish their own breaks.

"We're having a hard time keeping the puck out of our net and getting momentum in games," Quenneville said. "We've gotten the effort the last few games. It's a matter of confidence. A win is what we're looking for."

A great moment -- Monday marks the 15th anniversary of one of the NHL's greatest achievements in the illustrious 20-season career of Wayne Gretzky.

On March 23, 1994, Gretzky rifled a shot past Vancouver goalie Kirk McLean off a feed from Marty McSorley to surpass Gordie Howe as the game's all-time leading scorer with 802 goals. Howe (801 goals in 1,767 regular season games) had held the record since his retirement in 1979-80, the year Gretzky arrived on the NHL scene. Gretzky (894 goals in 1,487 regular season games) would lead the League in scoring that season with 38 goals and 130 points while winning the Lady Byng Trophy as that player who exhibited sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct.

Gretzky's Los Angeles Kings failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 1994, one year after reaching the Final, marking the first season Gretzky failed to play a game beyond the regular season.

Zach attack -- So now that Martin Brodeur has established the League record for career victories and Patrik Elias has become the team's all-time leader in points, some of the focus shifts to Zach Parise in his attempt to become the first player in New Jersey Devils history to score 50 goals in a season.

It comes down to this. Parise needs to score at least 9 goals over his team's final 10 games -- a feat certainly within his reach. After all, the 5-foot-11, 190-pound wing began the season with 9 goals in New Jersey's first 10 games. Parise is currently on an eight-game points streak, notching 3 goals and 11 points over that stretch. He has 6 goals and 18 points over his last 17 contests.

Following Sunday's meeting in Boston, in which he assisted on New Jersey's only goal, Parise will look to close the gap to 50 with games in Philadelphia on Monday, at Chicago on Friday and home to Carolina on Saturday. Here's a breakdown of Parise's 2008-09 totals against those opponents on this week's schedule.

Philadelphia (5 games) -- 3 goals, 5 assists, 8 points
Chicago (1 game) -- 0 goals, 2 assists, 2 points
Carolina (2 games) -- 1 goal, 0 assists, 1 point

Cruising Canucks -- There's no question the Vancouver Canucks are one of the hotter teams in the Western Conference right now.

 
 
Not only has goalie Roberto Luongo gone 16-3-1 over his last 20 starts, but Vancouver is only two points behind the struggling Chicago Blackhawks for fourth after winning eight of its last 11 games. The team has also won its last 11 straight at General Motors Place in Vancouver, outscoring the opposition, 42-19, over that stretch.

Of Vancouver's 11 remaining games, seven are against teams currently out of the playoff hunt, including three against 15th-seeded Colorado. The decision by Canucks coach Alain Vigneault to move checking wing Alex Burrows to the top line alongside Daniel and Henrik Sedin has also proved to be critical to the team's recent resurgence. Burrows has scored nine of his 24 goals this season in the last 10 games since being promoted to the top line with the Sedins.

The Canucks began a crucial six-game road trip on Saturday with a 5-1 loss to Phoenix, during which Luongo was pulled after two periods with his team down 4-0. They'll look to rebound in Dallas on Tuesday, St. Louis on Thursday, Colorado on Friday and Chicago on Sunday.

Will Lightning strike? -- With the vision of Alex Ovechkin's goal-scoring celebration fresh on their minds, the Tampa Bay Lightning visit Verizon Center in Washington on Friday with the hope of posting their first victory against the Caps this season.

Last Thursday, Ovechkin became the first player to 50 goals this season in a 5-2 victory over the Lightning. Following his first-period goal, the League's defending Hart Trophy recipient celebrated by putting his stick on the ice and pretending to warm his hands over it.

"Me, José Theodore, (Nicklas) Backstrom and (Mike Green) said if I score goal, José tell me just put the stick on the ice and try like it's so hot," Ovechkin said at the time. "Backie stopped and Greenie stopped, so I have to do it myself."

The scene didn't exactly warm the hearts of the Lightning players. Lighting wing Martin St. Louis, who has 1 goal and 4 assists in 4 games against the Caps, was one of those players.

"He's a fun player to watch, but to do that to a team . . . I mean, we've had better days and there's no need to embarrass us and embarrass (goalie) Mac McKenna like that," St. Louis said.

One thing is certain, Caps coach Bruce Boudreau doesn't anticipate any more Ovechkin glove-warming celebrations.

"We had a little talk," Boudreau told the Washington Post. "It's the first and only time I've seen that happen in all the time I've been watching Alex. I've never seen him do a celebration like that. But I don't expect it to happen again."

The game marks the fifth meeting between the clubs this season with the Caps winning all four of the previous contests. Ovechkin, incidentally, has 4 goals and 9 points in four games against the Lightning. The clubs will cross paths one more time on April 9 in Tampa.

Air time - The NHL Hour With Commissioner Gary Bettman and co-host Bill Clement will again air Thursday from 4-5 p.m. ET on NHL Home Ice (XM Channel 204 and Sirius Channel 208).

NHL Hour With Commissioner Gary Bettman provides the latest news and events from the highest levels of the NHL. The show encourages fans to submit questions via phone and email. To submit questions to NHL Hour call 1-877-645-6696 or email nhlhour@nhl.com. The archived shows of The NHL Hour, a production of NHL Radio, are available for download on NHL.com via a podcast. NHL Hour is a production of NHL Radio.

Contact Mike Morreale at mmorreale@nhl.com.


Quote of the Day

It was the look in his eyes. Hockey is the most important thing in his life. He wants to be a hockey player, and nothing's going to stop him from being a hockey player.

— Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin on forward Alex Galchenyuk's potential