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One Minute Remaining: Holiday Cheering

by Harvey Wittenberg / Chicago Blackhawks
It's still a long way off and there's a lot of hockey left before the regular season finale on April 6, but getting into the holiday spirit, the Blackhawks are giving fans a lot to cheer about these days.

The question is: what is it going to take to get into the playoffs?

One of the aims of establishing a salary cap in the NHL was to create parity, and the late Bill Wirtz was one of the early proponents of the system before it was finally adopted.

Thus far in the Western Conference, outside of Detroit -- who only the Blackhawks have been able to solve this season -- the battle for the other 7 playoff slots appears to be wide open and may go down to the wire in April.

While Hawks coach Denis Savard can usee the familar cliche, "We only take one game at a time," it certainly has been ringing true this year. No team can afford to take a night off or look a game ahead.

This year's Blackhawks edition, thanks to the efforts of general manager Dale Tallon and his staff, is an exciting team.

Many are surprised that teenage rookies Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have performed as well as they have and at this writing are respective leaders among freshman players in goals and points.

There have been a dozen new faces this season with the Hawks, and the depth with the young talent now in nearby Rockford has certainly helped.

There's no secret that confidence builds when a player is successful and that confidence builds chemistry on a team.

Patrick Sharp had his first 20 goal campaign last season and has been off to a great start. When Martin Havlat and Jason Williams are healthy, they have shown how much more potent the Hawks offense can be.

Special teams can be the difference in any game and while the penalty killing has been fairly consistent the last few years, the power play has made a tremendous jump in being more effective -- not to mention the jump in shorthanded scoring.

While a defenseman's main task is to help his goalie stop pucks and break up the opponent's plays, Hawk blue liners have already exceeded their total goals scored last season.

Dustin Byfuglien's versatility to play either defense or forward since being called up from Rockford has been another added plus.

Naturally, you can't overlook the most important position on the team, goaltending. Nikolai Khabibulin helped win a Stanley Cup for Tampa Bay and Patrick Lalime has had a solid NHL career. Both remain a key to keep the Hawks on a path to return to the playoffs.

It took 96 points to make the playoffs last season and that will surely be the rough watermark this year.

When the Hawks made the 2002 playoffs, they had 23 wins in 43 games at the end of December and finished with 96 points. In 1995-96, they had 19 victories in 39 games and closed out the campaign with 94 points.

At the old Chicago Stadium in 1992-93, when the Hawks finished 1st with 106 points, they had 22 wins in 40 games.

The Hawks will finish this month with 37 games played.19 decisions should put them in a great position heading into January and February when winning on the road will be crucial as the schedule will have only eight games at the United Center and 19 away.

So let's stay in the Holiday mood as the Blackhawks are showing why red is rising again!

Happy Holidays!

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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