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Round 2
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Stanley Cup Final

Central: Hitchcock won't be going anywhere

Tuesday, 12.08.2009 / 1:00 AM / Division Notebooks

By Phil Coffey - NHL.com Sr. Editorial Director

Now that the NHL has seen its first coaching dismissal of the 2009-10 season, there will be an inevitable search on to see who might follow John Stevens out from behind the bench.
 
Don't look at Columbus' Ken Hitchcock as the next candidate.
 
Asked about Hitchcock's status amidst a 1-5-3 skid, Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson told Aaron Portzline that no thought has been given to making any change in Columbus.

"Hitch is safe," Howson told Portzline on Sunday. "To suggest otherwise is just ludicrous. It has not even entered anybody's mind. It's not something we'd even consider."

"I'm like most coaches," Hitchcock said of his job security. "I worry about (getting fired) each and every week. I always feel like I'm one bad week away from being in trouble. As a coach, that's what helps you keep your edge."

The Blue Jackets have made progress under the demanding Hitchcock and ice one of the NHL's youngest rosters. Columbus jumped to a solid 12-6-2 mark in the first quarter of the season, but have skidded to that 1-5-3 mark in the second quarter. One problem for the Blue Jackets has been defense. They have surrendered an NHL high 100 goals -- tied with Carolina and Toronto, and that stands out because Hitchcock preaches a strong defensive game.

"Is the team under-performing?" Howson said. "We've had a tough 2 1/2 weeks since we won in Dallas (4-1 on Nov. 19). But I also think a lot of teams go through these tough stretches. The ones who mend them quick and don't let them extend are the teams that succeed.

"This is a tough stretch for us. We just have to stay tough and stay with it."

Cementing the future -- Anyone who has ever bought a house experienced what Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman experienced last Thursday, namely the delight of getting something you really want coupled with the terror of having to pay for it.

In Bowman's case, he locked up three cornerstone players for the Blackhawks, signing Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to five-year deals and defenseman Duncan Keith to a 13-year deal.

The positive? The Blackhawks now have three bring, young players for the foreseeable future. The negative? Now, Bowman has to find a way to make it all work under the salary cap.

"We've said all along that our goal was to maintain the core of our franchise moving forward and we believe these three players represent that core," Bowman said. "They each have a unique talent and we believe these three players will lead this team to great heights."

"I think as players, we don't think about (contracts and salary cap) that much," Kane said. "We play for the love of the game and the Chicago Blackhawks. Obviously, there's pressure, but with that comes responsibility. Obviously it means a lot that Stan (Bowman), John (McDonough) and Rocky (Wirtz) can pull this off. They gave me, an 18-year-old, undersized kid, an opportunity to come into the League and play."

"The three of us have that work ethic where every single day we want to be the best we can be and our ultimate goal is to help our team win a championship," Toews said. "We're excited about renewing our contracts and knowing we'll be here for a long time.

On the ice, the Hawks have remained hot, stopping the Penguins in overtime Saturday on a Kris Versteeg goal, giving Chicago 10 wins in its last 13 games (10-2-1).

Time is of the essence --
Unlike past seasons, Chris Osgood told NHL.com's Mike Morreale that there is no time like the present for him to get his game going.

The reason? The Red Wings haven't run away and hid like they did in the Western Conference standings last season. In fact, if the Stanley Cup Playoffs started Tuesday, the Wings would be on the outside looking in. Close, but still out.

"For me, personally, I've got to get to the level I've been in the playoffs for this team right now," Osgood said. "Last year we were so far ahead I didn't have to, but the position we're in now, I've got to get to that level now, and continue it through the rest of the regular season. I mean, we're going to get to a point here where there're 30 games left and it's going to be a dogfight. I've got to start stealing games and playing like I did in the playoffs."

It's been a different kind of season for Osgood in another respect, as he is splitting the goaltending on a virtual even basis with Jimmy Howard.

"It's awesome for Jimmy," Osgood said. "It was a blessing in disguise when I got sick and Jimmy got to go in and play real well. We're going to need Jimmy to be there. We've got a lot of games. I'm behind Jimmy 100 percent just as the rest of the team is.

"I just have to keep myself ready," Osgood said. "Ever since I was sick, I haven't played a heck of a lot, but I played a lot early. You obviously would like to play to get into a rhythm, but at the same time you have to stay ready regardless. It's all about winning and right now we're out of the playoffs."

Kariya atones --
Paul Kariya got mad, then he got even. Actually a little better than even.

Saturday night against the Los Angeles Kings, Kariya lost the puck and it ended up in the St. Louis Blues' net, shorthanded no less. That proved to be temporary good news for the Kings, who then saw Kariya net 2 third-period goals on the way to a 5-4 win.

"There was miscommunication with the three of us," Kariya said of himself, goalie Chris Mason and defenseman Eric Johnson. "I was supposed to come back to get the puck, E.J. let it go and I tripped over him. It seems funny now."

While Blues coach Andy Murray undoubtedly didn't find it funny at the time, he did laud Kariya's play this season.

"Paul has worked extremely hard," Murray said. "Even during that recent time when he wasn't scoring, every night you could count him as being one of our best players because of his work ethic. He was checking, he was playing on the power play and he was killing penalties -- which he hasn't done a lot of in his career."

In 27 games so far, Kariya 8 goals and 5 assists.

"To be honest, I think I was playing really good hockey through that 14-game stretch -- and for whatever reason, the puck wasn't going in," Kariya said. "But I've always said if I'm getting opportunities and I'm getting my shots, sooner or later they were going to go in. And it's starting to come now."

Preds are hot, hot, hot -- A tepid start to the season, 3-6-1, didn't inspire a lot of confidence for the Nashville Predators, but things have changed in a hurry thanks to players getting healthy and combination among the forwards and defensemen clicking.

Since that forgettable start, the Predators are 13-5-1. Not too shabby. Helping the cause has been the returns of Jason Arnott, J.P. Dumont, Jordin Tootoo, Joel Ward and Dan Hamhuis from assorted injuries. In addition, slumping players like David Legwand and Martin Erat have rebounded.

"Sometimes what you think would be a good pairing or a good line on paper it should be automatic and in reality it's just not," Trotz told Jay Levin of the team's Web site. "Can't really explain it -- it's life, it's chemistry, it's your style of game.

"We've lost the Nichols, the Ortmeyers, the Fiddlers, the Bonks, those type of veteran guys. We now have a little more depth, but a couple guys we aren't as familiar with -- Goc, Guite, Olvecky, Scatchard -- people like that. We had to find out who fits the right way into our team, our style.

"We had to rely on what we saw in training camp, see on a daily basis in practice, but sometimes when you play the games it turns out the other way, guys aren't producing or the fit isn't quite right, so we've had to experiment a little more at the start this year to get it right. But having that depth has given us the flexibility to experiment, too."

I've been getting frustrated lately, and the only thing keeping me sane was the team winning and other people stepping up and scoring. Then you just kind of let it go and realize you can end the series with one shot, that frustration goes away for a brief moment, and that's what happened.

— Montreal forward Max Pacioretty after scoring the series-winner in Game 4 -- his first career playoff goal -- to eliminate the Lightning and send the Canadiens into the second round