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Blackhawks feel ready to play for real

by Shawn P. Roarke
ZURICH -- Bring on the Florida Panthers.

The Chicago Blackhawks proved they are ready for the start of the 2009-10 regular season with Monday's 9-2 rout of Swiss champion HC Davos in a Victoria Cup exhibition game. The Hawks play ZSC Zurich Tuesday night (2:15 p.m. ET,, in the Victoria Cup championship here at the Hallenstadion.

Then it is off to Finland for the 2009 NHL Compuware Premiere matchup against the Panthers, a two-game series to kick off the regular season.

"I thought we've really progressed since we've gotten here and tonight is our last game before we begin," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "We're looking for a good challenge and this is an important game to get ready."

Quenneville admitted that Hawks' slow start to the preseason concerned him, but now he feels like his team is hitting its stride. And it's not just a false sense of security borne from the lopsided 9-2 score Monday night. He sensed his players are starting to find their regular-season legs by the performances they are turning in during practices and the things they are doing in the game.

He points to Patrick Kane as a perfect example. The young star has certainly found his touch in the past week. He potted two goals Friday night as Chicago defeated Minnesota, 4-3, at the United Center. Then, Kane added two more goals in Monday night's win against Davos, including a brilliant one-on-one goal in the third period that even had Quenneville smiling.

"He had it on a string last night," Quenneville said. "He had it going. I thought he had a very good camp. He looks like he has a little more quickness to his game. Obviously, he's a young guy and he's gotten stronger and knows the League a little bit better. He's had a strong camp and last night he had a little something to show for it. He's a special player and not many guys in the League can do what he can do."

But it is not just the coach who is feeling optimistic. The players also believe they are rounding into the form that carried them all the way to the Western Conference Finals last season.

Jonathan Toews had a pair of assists, including one on a shorthanded goal, and finished a whopping plus-4 Monday night. His combination of speed and power was too much for Davos players to handle. Toews saw other players playing to their strengths, as well, when he was on the bench.

 "I think last night was a good game for us," Toews told "We played smart; we didn't make too many mistakes. Considering our situation, I think we have done well with the time change. Physically, I think we've played smart and didn't get too tired out there.

"It was a good preparation game for us. We had two or three rough games in the U.S. before coming over here. We had a great game against Minnesota before getting here and we want to carry over that momentum and get better every single game, regardless of who we play. We did that last night and tonight is another opportunity to get better."

Defenseman Duncan Keith also liked what he saw from his colleagues on the blue line. Chicago only allowed 10 shots from Davos, plus the Blackhawk defenders chipped in 2 goals and 3 assists on the night.

"Last night, we had some pretty nice goals, but I think we have to get better every day here," Keith told "It was fun, kind of a neat feeling, but it was definitely different from what we are used to back in the NHL. We want to keep getting better every game."

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