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One Minute Remaining: Baker's Dozen

by Harvey Wittenberg / Chicago Blackhawks
This month can go a long way toward achieving a return to the playoffs for the Blackhawks. A baker's dozen (13) could be a magic number going into December when the Hawks have 9 of 12 games at the United Center.

This is the team's 13th season at the United Center and Chicago has never come out of November with more than 12 wins at the UC. In fact, you have to go back to the old Stadium in 1990 when the Hawks were 17-7-2 at the end of November.

They finished the season in 1st place and had 106 points -- their 2nd best total. Even in 1992, they wound up November with only 12 victories on their way to 1st with a repeat of 106 points.

Reflecting on the last three trips to the post-season, the Hawks had a dozen wins in 2001; 11 in 1995; and 12 in 1996 to finish the month -- which always includes a long road trip because of the circus at UC.

Coincidentally, the Hawks didn't hit 13 wins until December 16 each of the past two campaigns.

So much for history, this year's Hawks are a different story.

Special teams are off to a great start, especially on the power play where Chicago ranks in the top third after being near the bottom for past two seasons. The penalty killers are in the top half of the NHL and have been among the leaders in killing penalties on the road.

Coach Denis Savard feels that team chemistry has been a key to the consistency thus far. Coming from behind in the 3rd period and winning one-goal games have given the players more confidence.

There's no doubt the energy spread by teenage rookies Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews has been contagious.

Veteran addition Brent Sopel and Dustin Byfuglien, coming on after being slowed by a training camp injury, have blended well with blue liners Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Jim Vandermeer and James Wisniewski. Also, the defensemen have been more productive by moving up in the offensive zone, something that has been missing in recent years.

Thus far, opposing coaches have been singing the praises of Kane and Toews, but they certainly have been helped by the efforts of veterans Robert Lang and Jason Williams. Tuomo Ruutu appears on his way to his best campaign since his rookie season, and Patrick Sharp is off to his best start in his NHL career.

Prior to his injury, Rene Bourque had been getting better each game, while Yanic Perreault, one of the best faceoff players in the league, has finally been finding the back of the net.

When last year's leading scorer, Martin Havlat, shakes off the effects of his shoulder injury and regains his form, the Hawks' offense can be even more potent.

A slow start by Sergei Samsonov has been disappointing as far as scoring, but his overall play has picked up. Adam Burish and Dave Bolland, both rookies, have been pleasant surprises, and veteran Martin Lapointe continues to add his veteran leadership.

General manager Dale Tallon and his staff have done a great job in having a lot more depth available, especially with the AHL IceHogs in nearby Rockford.

So, the table is set for success and hopefully the month will end with more than a bakers' dozen wins for the first time since 1990!

Harvey Wittenberg served as the Blackhawks' Public Address Announcer from 1961 to 2001 and is the author of "Tales from the Chicago Blackhawks." Contact him at

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