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Blackhawks plowing way to Winter Classic

by Brian Compton / NHL.com
A few thoughts while we wonder if the Chicago Blackhawks will lose before the 2010 Winter Classic:

Rolling right along -- As of now, it won't be snowing when the Chicago Blackhawks meet the Detroit Red Wings at Wrigley Field on Thursday afternoon.
   
Is it any coincidence that it's because Chicago's is the hottest team in the NHL right now?
   
The Blackhawks made history on Sunday night by winning their ninth straight game, a 4-1 win against the Minnesota Wild at the Xcel Energy Center. Chicago broke the team record of eight straight victories set in December 1971 and matched in January 1981. With the nine-game streak, the Blackhawks also tied the San Jose Sharks for the longest run of the season.
    
"It's unbelievable, considering we're an Original Six team," Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said. "It goes way back, so it's a pretty big accomplishment for the guys in this locker room."
   
A locker room that has been pelted with Winter Classic questions for several months. It's become so commonplace within the close-knit room that it hasn't distracted Joel Quenneville's club one bit. Sunday's win was Chicago's fifth straight road victory -- a feat the club hasn’t accomplished in more than a decade.
   
"I think we're all pretty excited about the Winter Classic," Toews said. "There's been a lot of talk about it since it was announced last summer. We're used to hearing about it pretty much every day. I don't think we're too bothered by it. I think we're going to treat it as just another game, but we all know we're going to be pretty excited playing that game. There's a lot of distractions in this game that can take you off your focus, but I think we've shown a lot of maturity and a lot of character. It's a big reason why we're doing so well right now."
   
But how can such a young squad get on such a roll?
   
"We're playing a great team game," Toews said. It's great when one guy can make a mistake, and the other five guys are playing great. We feel comfortable with each other. We have confidence that if we make a mistake, somebody's going to make up for it. We're backing each other up out there."
   
Both Toews and Quenneville said after Sunday's win that there is no reason to be satisfied -- a sign that everyone is on the same page. The Blackhawks will look to make it 10 in a row on Tuesday night in Detroit in a preview before history is made on Thursday in the Windy City.
   
"We're having a lot of fun playing hockey," Toews said. "It's not about the winning streak or who gets the goals or who gets the glory. We've got a great team. We're well-coached and we're really happy about the way we're playing. But I think we know we can keep getting better as well."

Move over, San Jose -- Just when it appeared the San Jose Sharks were going to run away with the President's Trophy, the Boston Bruins crashed the party.
   
Behind another game-winning tally from Michael Ryder, the Bruins extended their streak to eight straight games with a 2-1 victory over the Thrashers in Atlanta. The win gives Boston 58 points, tying it with San Jose for most in the League.
   
So, now that the Bruins -- who are on their best run in 15 years -- have established themselves as one of the top teams in the NHL, what does the mentality have to be within their locker room?
   
"We have to understand that we're no longer under the radar," defenseman Aaron Ward said.

"We're not going to sneak up on anybody."
   
The Thrashers -- who are in danger of falling out of the playoff race -- put forth a solid effort in front of their fans on Sunday, but were denied time and time again by Manny Fernandez. The Bruins' goalie finished with 32 saves and was forced to help the Bruins kill a penalty in the game's final 1:57.
   
"He was outstanding," Boston coach Claude Julien said of Fernandez. "He had a couple of saves late in the game that definitely made a difference."

For you, Mike
-- Alex Ovechkin did not want to disappoint Mike Gartner on the night his No. 11 was raised to the rafters of the Verizon Center.
   
So, No. 8 did what he does best -- take over a game.
   
The Russian superstar was phenomenal again on Sunday, as he scored twice in a 4-1 victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Ovechkin's efforts left Gartner in awe.
   
"I really do love watching him play," said Gartner, who ranks second in franchise history in goals (397), assists (392) and points. "He's someone that is so talented, works so hard at it and competes so hard and wants the puck so badly, it's fun to watch."
   
The Caps have certainly been fun to watch in the U.S. capital this season. With Sunday's victory, Washington improved to 15-1-1 on home ice. Dating back to the 2007-08 campaign, they have won 21 of 23 at the Verizon Center.
   
 
 
"If there's 18,000 people pushing you, you want to play good in front of them," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "You see them at the rink every day, all saying how much it means to them. It's a reason to keep playing hard."
   
And with each passing game, Ovechkin is giving the Capitals plenty of reasons to raise No. 8 to the rafters some day.
   
Going home happy
-- The five-game road trip probably didn't go as planned for the Anaheim Ducks, but at least the flight home wasn't going to be miserable.
   
After starting the trip with a shootout win at Edmonton, the Ducks would lose three consecutive games by a 4-3 score. On Sunday, they reversed their fortunes with a 4-3 victory against the Blues in St. Louis.
   
Anaheim received a huge contribution from Bobby Ryan, as the 21-year-old had a goal and an assist. His power-play tally at 12:49 of the third period broke a 3-3 tie and helped the Ducks end their three-game slide.
   
"They told me where to be and pucks were going to find me in there with Scotty (Niedermayer) walking off the half wall so I was just patient," Ryan said. "Sure enough, it came and I was able to poke it into an empty net. I think (Blues goalie Chris Mason) probably lost it in the scrum there."
   
Whatever the case was, it helped Anaheim win its first game since Dec. 19 at Edmonton, and its first regulation victory in two weeks.
   
"Tonight, we found a way to win one and that's a good sign," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said.

Four-point swing -- Just like that, the Edmonton Oilers are back in playoff contention.
   
With Sunday's 5-2 win against the visiting Nashville Predators, the Oilers -- winners of three straight -- have moved into a three-way tie for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, joining the Preds and Colorado Avalanche.
   
"There were a lot of things about tonight that were the things we anticipated seeing at the beginning of the year," Edmonton coach Craig MacTavish said. "There was lots of skill, lots of puck movement. We only got the one goal on the power play, but we were very effective on it. It was one of our better efforts of the year.
   
"That's the type of game that we thought we would see more of. It's taken a considerable amount of time but we are starting to move in a positive direction in terms of the way we are playing."
   
The Oilers received a lot of help from Erik Cole on Sunday, as the big forward had a goal and two assists. Dwayne Roloson made 28 saves, while his counterpart -- Nashville's Dan Ellis -- was yanked after allowing four goals on just 17 shots.
   
"As long as the opportunities are there you are doing the right things to give yourself a chance to be successful," Cole said. "Even when you are not scoring you can give a lift to the team. But it feels good to contribute the way I did tonight and finish a couple of those opportunities off."

Donut makes dozen
-- The Ottawa Senators weren't ready to play from the drop of the puck on Sunday night.
   
The end result was their 12th straight loss on the road.
   
Ottawa was outshot 17-5 in the first period and finished with just 18 overall in a 3-0 loss to the Vancouver Canucks at GM Place. With five games still remaining on this eight-game trip, things could really get out of control for the Sens, who are just 3-11-2 in arenas not named Scotiabank Place.
   
"We've got to be ready. We came out and made some mistakes and before we knew it we were down.  It's frustrating, there's no question. But we have to stick with it as a group and find a way to get wins." -- Mike Fisher
The Sens were blanked by Curtis Sanford, who picked up his fourth career shutout and his first since 2006.
   
''We've got to be ready. We came out and made some mistakes and before we knew it we were down,'' forward Mike Fisher said. ''It's frustrating, there's no question. But we have to stick with it as a group and find a way to get wins.''
   
Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson agreed that his team is not putting forth 60-minute efforts. Clearly, adjustments are going to have to be made if the Senators plan on making any type of playoff push.
   
''There is obviously a lot of frustration in our dressing room,'' Alfredsson said. ''We are just trying to give ourselves a chance every night but we don't seem to be able to play for a full 60 minutes. We have to keep working and try to find a way.''
 
Contact Brian Compton at: bcompton@nhl.com.

Material from wire services and broadcast media was used in this report.

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