Besides the pretty goals, dynamic saves and packed houses in Chicago, the Blackhawks are showing a vital intangible that may well carry them a long way come playoff time -- a killer instinct.
Don't ever underestimate the ability to put a team away, something the Blackhawks did to the Nashville Predators in back-to-back games over the weekend, a 4-1 win in Nashville Saturday and a 5-4 win in Chicago Sunday in which Patrick Kane
scored the winner in the last minute of regulation.
The win vaulted the Blackhawks eight points ahead of the Predators, who have now lost three straight. Sunday's victory also gave the 'Hawks the temporary overall lead in the NHL, a position that seems to change almost daily among the 'Hawks, Capitals, Devils, Sharks and Penguins.
The sweep of the Preds closed the season series between the two Central Division rivals with the Blackhawks taking that, four games to two.
"We've faced them a lot this season, and we've been pretty successful," Kane told the Chicago Tribune. "They played some good games against us, but we got four points here and they get none, (so) it distances ourselves a little bit."
"Any time we can put separation between the team that's closest to us, it's great," agreed veteran forward John Madden. "I'm sure we'd like to have a little bit cleaner win than we did (Sunday). Wins are wins. They're hard to come by in this league, so we'll take them."
As you might expect, the loss was deflating to the Predators.
"It was a heartbreaking type of game," defenseman Dan Hamhuis told reporters Sunday. "We played better than we did (Saturday night), but Chicago's a tough place to play and they have a very good team. It would have been nice to get a point, but we came up a little short."
The Blackhawks knew what was at stake against the Predators and wanted to make a point while collecting points.
"We knew going in that these two would be huge for the points," Patrick Sharp
said. "I know it's only the 35-, 40-game mark, but you have two teams battling for the top of the division. This is a big part of the year."
"Two games back-to-back against Nashville and you come out with four points, it's obviously a successful couple games," Kane added. Blue Jackets get the call --
There hasn't been much to smile about for the Columbus Blue Jackets, who have had a December to forget. So you take your good news where you can get it, in this case having Sammy Pahlsson and Fredrik Modin named to Sweden's Olympic roster.
Both were members of the 2006 squad that won the gold medal against Finland in Turino, Italy.
It was especially good news for Modin, who has appeared in just eight games caused by a stubborn knee sprain.
"I'm very glad and happy they have the confidence in me to play," Modin told Tom Reed of the Columbus Dispatch. "I haven't played much this year, but I feel like I know what I can do, and they must feel somewhat of a similar way."
Meanwhile, Kristian Huselius was not selected and is not surprised. He has scored just once in December and has been struggling mightily.
"The last stretch here has been terrible," he said. "I can do better. I have to get more involved and compete harder."Wings the core of Sweden --
Like Pahlsson and Modin in Columbus, the Detroit Red Wings were delighted with the news that Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall and Tomas Holmstrom will once again represent Sweden in Olympic competition. This foursome also competed for the team that won gold in 2006.
To no one's surprise, Lidstrom, a four-time Olympian, will be Sweden's captain.
"I'm very proud to be the captain and represent my country and be part of such a big event as the Olympics, too," Lidstrom said.
"We had a great feeling the last time we participated in the Olympics," Lidstrom told the Detroit Free Press. "It will be hard (to defend) with all the good players and good teams that are going to be there."
Johan Franzen is out with a knee injury and was not picked. Nor was former Wing and current Canuck Mikael Samuelsson, who was quite unhappy with the snub.
"Little bit surprised that Sammy didn't make it," Lidstrom told the Free Press. "He played real strong the last Olympics and he's had a good first half in Vancouver, too. But it's not easy picking players and you're looking at left and right shots and we have some right shooters in there right now."
Holmstrom said he was a bit surprised to get the call.
"You never know what kind of team they're going to want," Holmstrom said. "You have no time to play together, so the mixture gotta fit right away. I'm proud and happy about it."
Bad signs for Predators --
Dropping back-to-back games to Chicago was disappointing enough for the Nashville Predators, but the losses are piling up on some other discouraging trends.
For example, the Preds now have allowed at least three goals in eight-straight games.
"We've gotten away a little from our game and our focus. We've had a lot of time off. During the Christmas season, you can get your mind drifting off into different areas. Right now we don't have everybody focused in on how we have to win games." -- Nashville Predators coach Barry Trotz
"When you start scoring goals, then you start saying, 'We're going to get three tonight,' and that's not always the case," coach Barry Trotz told John Glennon of The Tennessean. "We've gotten away a little from our game and our focus. We've had a lot of time off. During the Christmas season, you can get your mind drifting off into different areas. Right now we don't have everybody focused in on how we have to win games."
Nashville also has allowed at least one power-play goal in seven-straight games, moving within two games of tying a franchise record set early in the 2002-03 season.
Home woes for Blues --
Playing at Scottrade Center has not given the St. Louis Blues an advantage of any kind so far this season. Heading into Tuesday's game with visiting Nashville, the Blues are 6-12-2 at home, including Sunday's 5-3 loss to Buffalo, which added to a streak of just one win in their last seven home games.
As Jeremy Rutherford reported in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, any momentum gained from a three-game win streak last week is long gone after losses to Minnesota and Buffalo.
"We came out with the mind-set of pushing the shot (count) up, getting pucks to the net, playing in the offensive zone. ... I can't say that we sat back. I don't think we sat back in the third period," coach Andy Murray said. "Our power play was not very good when we needed it to be good. As in (Saturday) night's game, we gave up sloppy goals."
The Blues also have struggled big time against Eastern Conference teams, going 2-6-2 this season.
Author: Phil Coffey | NHL.com Sr. Editorial Director