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Blackhawks continue playoff push without 'Q'

by Brian Hedger / Chicago Blackhawks

Their coach remains in the hospital, but the Chicago Blackhawks don't have the luxury of worrying about Joel Quenneville's continued absence.
Instead, the defending Stanley Cup champions are preparing for another tough home game Friday at the United Center against a Central Division rival, the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Columbus is just two points behind the 11th-place Blackhawks in the Western Conference, while Chicago is just four points outside the top eight.
"You look at the standings, like we have every day for the past two weeks, and things aren't changing that much," Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp said. "The points are valuable and we want to make sure we keep these guys behind us. At this point, I think it's still a little too far out to start solidifying those playoff spots. Anything can happen down the stretch. If we play our best, we like to think we control our destiny."
This current three-game homestand -- which started with a 3-1 win Wednesday against Minnesota and ends Sunday against the Pittsburgh Penguins -- could go a long way toward getting the Hawks back where they need to be.
Even Quenneville -- who could be released from the hospital this weekend -- is preparing for the game from his hospital bed. He's recovering from gastrointestinal bleeding the team said was caused by a stomach ulcer.
"I spoke to him this morning and he's in great spirits," said Mike Haviland, the Hawks' acting coach. "He's actually going a little stir crazy there, he said. We just talked a little about Columbus tonight and (he said), 'Be ready to go.' He said we'd talk maybe this afternoon, or after the game for sure."
In order for that to be an upbeat conversation, Chicago will need to continue to keep Blue Jackets star Rick Nash subdued. Nash, who has scored in four of Columbus' past five games, has yet to score a goal in four games against the Hawks this season.
"You've really got to know where he is," Haviland said. "He's all over the ice. He's a big, strong guy and he can take you to the net. So the focus is to really stay between him and the (goal) at all times and keep him to the outside. He's a dangerous player and we'll certainly watch him tonight."
Hawks PK on the rise -- Chicago's penalty-killing unit is ranked 26th in the League (78.6 percent), and just 29th at home (76.1 percent), but it's been much better recently.
The Hawks have allowed just five goals in their previous 32 shorthanded situations over the past 10 games (84.4 percent) -- which Haviland attributes to being more aggressive.
"Our details have been better," said Haviland, who has been working specifically with the penalty-kill units for about a month. "I think (we're putting on) a little more pressure -- smart pressure. We're going at them a little harder than sitting back, and I think the guys kind of like that, too."
They definitely like the results, which could become a key to qualifying for the playoffs.
"It's an ongoing process and we need to be better at it, for sure," Haviland said of the penalty killing. "I think the guys have responded lately."
Jackets' power play struggling -- Columbus has scored only two power-play goals in its previous eight games (2-for-23) and has the League's 28th-ranked power play (13.5 percent).
Still, Columbus coach Scott Arniel feels like his team's play with the man-advantage isn't quite as poor as the stats might seem.
"We've been doing a good job in the last 15 or 20 games of creating opportunities -- where we come to the bench and we feel good about our power play," he said following Friday's morning skate. "We might not necessarily score, but at least we're creating quality chances."
One thing he'd like the Blue Jackets to improve, though, is shooting more from the top of the offensive zone and crashing the net.
"Most of the goals are scored by shots and rebounds and deflections," Arniel said. "We've got to get back to doing that. Just spending that extended amount of time in the opposition's end on a power play can wear (penalty killers) down. If it's a situation where you're never getting set up, never having zone time, other teams build off that."
Sharp taking heat for cover shot -- This month's edition of Chicago Magazine features a studio portrait of Sharp in a blue suit on the cover to go with its annual "50 most beautiful Chicagoans," list.
It's one of two cover shots for the magazine, with singer/actress Jennifer Hudson gracing the other one.
Sharp, the Blackhawks' leading scorer, said he's taken some good-natured ribbing about it around the locker room.
"I've been trying to keep the magazines out of the locker room," Sharp said. "The guys have been giving me a hard time, but it's an honor. I'm excited about it. It's cool. I guess I can put it in my drawer and remind my wife 20 years from now what I used to look like."

Author: Brian Hedger | Correspondent

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