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Central: Coach Q wants Hawks to race to break

by Phil Coffey
The Olympic break is in sight and Joel Quenneville wants his Chicago Blackhawks to sprint the rest of the way and resist the urge to stumble into a two-week sabbatical for those not competing at the 2010 Winter Olympics.

The Hawks were 0-2-1 prior to Saturday's 2-1 road win against the Blues, and there had been some concern about the club's intensity level.

"We're looking to capture some momentum here," Quenneville told reporters. "It's important we try to sustain something like (Saturday's) win and go into the break on a positive note. We have to concentrate each and every night to get our emotion level as high as we can."

The Hawks have a 15-point edge over Nashville in the Central, but trail San Jose by four points heading into play Monday night for the Western Conference lead.

"I don't think we've been very happy with the way we've been playing since Carolina, maybe even before that," winger Patrick Sharp told Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune. "We definitely weren't panicking in our locker room."

"Our compete level was something we maybe lost for a little bit there, but obviously we got it back," defenseman Cam Barker told Kuc after the win against the Blues. "With the grind of the season and so many games it's tough to stay on top of it all the time. Guys played really hard (Saturday) so it was nice to see."

"Every guy stepped it up," Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "We all sacrificed a little bit more and that's the No. 1 reason we came out with two points. It's that kind of effort we need to keep showing up with every night."

Sigh of relief in Detroit -- That wind gust coming from Detroit probably wasn't the latest blast of winter weather, but GM Ken Holland and coach Mike Babcock heaving sighs of relief after injuries to Tomas Holmstrom (bruised knee) and Drew Miller (sore ankle) were not deemed serious.

As hockey fans all know, the Wings have withstood a season-long siege of injuries that has helped keep the Wings among the Western Conference's bubble teams. Holmstrom had recently returned to the lineup and to have lost him again would have promoted that sense of karma that this isn't the Wings' season.

But Johan Franzen is now ready to return, joined by Andreas Lilja, good news to be sure, but the Wings also know that getting things in gear has to happen now.

"If we play .500 hockey the rest of the way, we're not going to make it," Holland told Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press. "We have to have some stretches where we go 8-2, 7-3. We just haven't found ways to win games, and now we've got a huge week here with three games before the Olympic break."

"We have to get points, that's the bottom line," Babcock agreed. "We're in a situation now where you dig yourself too big a hole, you can't get out of it."

As for making any moves at the trade deadline, Holland is sticking to his plan that this is a transition season for the Wings as they work more young players into the lineup as regulars, so he isn't planning a big splash at the deadline.

"Our trade deadline acquisitions are Franzen and Kronwall," Holland said. "If you told me at the start of the season we'd get a big forward and a top-four D-man at the deadline, I'd take it. And once we activate Franzen, we're at the cap -- it's dollar in, dollar out."

Big trip for Predators -- The heat is on as teams look to go into the Olympic break on a winning note. In Nashville, that means getting their road game in order for its last four games before the Olympic break. Nashville plays the Penguins, Islanders, Rangers and Devils on the trip.

"These are big games for us," defenseman Dan Hamhuis told Bryan Mullen of the Tennessean. "I think we're playing really well and we need to continue that on this road trip. We will be playing difficult teams, but the points will be really important."

"It's going to be that way for the rest of the year with the playoffs just around the corner," center Cal O'Reilly said. "Every team is fighting for that spot. It's going to be playoff hockey most nights."

The Predators showed that kind of fight against San Jose on Saturday night at home, but fell to the Sharks by a goal, 4-3.

"We don't like those guys at all," Nashville forward J.P. Dumont, who scored two goals, said of the playoff-like game. "Every time we play it's going to be a tough game."

Dumont responded after taking some criticism from coach Barry Trotz, who wanted Dumont to play in the "hard" areas. Entering Saturday, Dumont had only one goal in his last 11 games, including an eight-game streak without a goal.

"When he is skating and moving and he gets open, he can make plays," Trotz said. "He's got really great vision. He understands how to make things happen offensively. It happens when he's really moving his feet and being competitive and battling for pucks."

Different approaches --
So far, Claude Noel has had a much different coaching style than Ken Hitchcock had with the Blue Jackets.

As Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch reports:

* Defenseman Milan Jurcina, who was a healthy scratch in Hitchcock's final two games, led the Blue Jackets in ice time with 21 minutes, 51 seconds in Saturday's win against Buffalo.
* Defenseman Kris Russell skated 21:33 and carried the puck deep in the Sabres' zone numerous times.

* Noel showed trust in youngsters Derick Brassard and Jakub Voracek. The two also played 4-on-4 and killed penalties.

"I trust them -- or that I'm trying to trust them," Noel said. "It's responsibility. Can you handle it? It's just like with your kids."

"I just like the enthusiasm we've played with, the energy we've shown," GM Scott Howson said. "You never know what you're going to get when you make such a dramatic change as we made. Sometimes your team flattens out for a couple of games, and sometimes you get a boost, like we've gotten."

Noel said he's still getting the hang of being a head coach again.

"It'll come quicker rather than later," Noel said. "I haven't been that happy with myself, frankly, but it'll get better. The fact that Russ and Jurcina played so many minutes that goes to show you how good (assistant coach) Gordy Murphy is. He puts the defensive pairs out, and so far now, those minutes have changed a lot for some players."

Blues are desperate too -- Count the St. Louis Blues among the Central Division teams using the word "desperate" a lot these days. An inability to finish off plays and opponents has the Blues on the periphery of the playoff hunt and St. Louis is aware time is growing short, what with the Olympic break approaching rapidly and than an all-out race to the finish line when play resumes.

As Dan O'Neill pointed out in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Blues road goalie Chris Mason to a win against Chicago and had the better of the play against San Jose and Chicago again, but lost both games.

"We're in a desperate mode right now," Keith Tkachuk said. "We need to be a team that's more willing to sacrifice more in the tough areas. Right now, we're not a team that will pay the price around those tough areas to score goals ... and we're a team that's having a hard time scoring."

With 149 goals as of Sunday, the Blues ranked 27th in the NHL in scoring. They have won 13 of 28 one-goal decisions. They have won eight of 25 games in which the opponent scored first, and just two of 22 games they trailed after two periods.

"We're not getting the goals when we need them," Brad Boyes said. "I don't know. I'm trying to figure it out, too, trying to find answers. To say it is frustrating is a big understatement. When you're a guy, like myself, who has the talent to do it, and you're not doing it ... it's letting guys down, you know. You keep going, keep pushing, thinking you're going to come out of it. And in the (58) games we've played, we haven't come out of it yet."

"It seems like we're in every game, but we're just not exceeding or getting to that level that we need to get points and to win," Mason said. "These are good teams we're playing, but you've got to beat these teams if you want to get in the playoffs, especially at home.

"We've been talking about our home record all year. We just can't keep giving away points here."

Around the Central -- Joel Quenneville, a former St. Louis Blues coach, feels the buzz is back in the rivalry between St. Louis and Chicago. "It looks like this rivalry is rejuvenated," he said. "There's a buzz now. It's good for the game." ... Mike Babcock tells fans not to expect to see Johan Franzen at top form in his first few games back. "It's one thing to get him back, but we've got to get him going up and down the rink," Babcock said. "Mule's only played two games (three) all year. Just imagine trying to keep up. I don't see it. It's going to be hard for him. I mean, he's big and talented but it's tough." Babcock's plans to use Franzen with with Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. ... TSN says the Hawks have interest in Tampa Bay defenseman Andrej Meszaros. ... San Jose won 63 percent of its faceoffs against the Predators. "They're No. 1 in the League and there's a reason why," coach Barry Trotz told the Tennessean. "They have a lot of experience there and some size. They do a good job in the faceoff circle. Faceoffs haven't been a strength for us this year." ... Blue Jackets defenseman Fedor Tyutin (bruised left knee) is likely to return Wednesday against San Jose. He missed the Buffalo game after being struck by a puck late in the previous game. Defenseman Rostislav Klesla (abdomen, groin) will not return until after the Olympic break. ... David Perron, 21, became the youngest player in franchise history to play 200 games with the Blues last Thursday. He was 48 days younger than Bob Hess (1977).
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