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Hawks focused on themselves, not Canucks

by Brian Hedger
The Chicago Blackhawks don't really care about the recent struggles of the Vancouver Canucks, who were in Chicago on Tuesday awaiting a game on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET, TSN) at the United Center.

The Canucks likely still will win the Northwest Division, but they've dropped five of their last seven games and appear to be staggering to the finish line of the regular season. However, after going through their own trying period following the All-Star break, when they went winless for nine straight games and plummeted to sixth in the Western Conference, the Hawks know first-hand how dangerous a struggling-but-talented team can be.

"We've gone through a lot this year," said Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith, who had 4 assists in a 5-1 rout of the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Tuesday. "There's been a lot of ups and downs and we've learned how we need to play. At the same time, we're not going to take anything for granted, knowing that we can't deviate from our system and play our team game. That's how we win games."

It's pretty similar to how Vancouver eventually shook off its early-season "hangover" and how the Canucks probably will get themselves back on track after this malaise ends. First they'll have to deal with the Hawks, who are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games and are 9-4-1 in the last 14 games played without injured star captain Jonathan Toews (upper body).

Neither team held a full morning skate at United Center on Wednesday, but both know there's a little more than just two points at stake. Bragging rights always are a bonus in this feud, but this time it's about both teams measuring up late in the season.

Chicago has discovered a formula that seems to work even without Toews, and lately it's all keyed by having quick starts that turn into comfortable wins. Now it's time to see if the Hawks can zoom out to a quick lead against the Canucks, who are expected to start Roberto Luongo in goal. Luongo hasn't played in two games and is 0-3-0 with a 5.30 goals-against average in his last four starts.

Luongo's struggles, however, are irrelevant to the Hawks. They're too focused on the numbers that determine the conference standings -- which find them just two points behind fourth-place Nashville in the West.

"They obviously have a great team and they're right at the top of the conference," Keith said of the second-place Canucks. "We know it's going to be a tough game. It always is against them. We've seen a lot of them. It's another big game ... another big two points that are on the line."

There's also that little rivalry between the two, which just never seems to burn out. But even that's being downplayed -- at least by the Hawks.

"There's a little bit more chippiness and that sort of stuff," said Chicago goalie Corey Crawford, who is expected to start after winning four straight games. "I don't know what it's going to be like. We just want to get the two points and I think that's our main focus."

The Blackhawks may be without defenseman Nick Leddy, who was injured early in the third period of Tuesday's game.

Here's a look at how the Canucks and Blackhawks might line up Wednesday:

Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Alexandre Burrows
David Booth - Ryan Kesler - Chris Higgins
Manny Malhotra - Samuel Pahlsson - Jannik Hansen
Zack Kassian - Maxim Lapierre - Dale Wiese

Alexander Edler - Marc-Andre Gragnani
Dan Hamhuis - Kevin Bieksa
Aaron Rome - Chris Tanev

Roberto Luongo likely will be in net, with Cory Schneider the backup.

Andrew Brunette - Patrick Kane - Marian Hossa
Patrick Sharp - Marcus Kruger - Viktor Stalberg
Bryan Bickell - Dave Bolland - Andrew Shaw
Brandon Bollig - Jamal Mayers - Michael Frolik

Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook
Johnny Oduya - Niklas Hjalmarsson
Sean O'Donnell - Dylan Olsen

Corey Crawford likely will be in net, with Ray Emery the backup.

Jimmy Hayes could replace Frolik on the right side of the fourth line.
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