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Hawks get one more shot at beating Avalanche

by Brian Hedger /
CHICAGO -- Often the results of a regular-season series don't mean a lot to NHL teams, but the series between the Chicago Blackhawks and Colorado Avalanche is different.
At least, this season anyway.
The Avs and Hawks will meet for the fourth and final time in the regular season at the United Center Wednesday (7:30 p.m. CT), and it's a big game for both teams for different reasons. For the Avs (22-15-6), who are just 3-5-2 in their last 10 games, it's about keeping pace in the tight Western Conference, where they are in sixth place with 50 points before Wednesday's games. 
Keeping pace is also important to eighth-place Chicago (49 points), but beating Colorado for the first time is up there. The Hawks are 0-2-1 against the Avs, with the two regulation losses decided in the third period -- including a 7-5 defeat on Dec. 12 in Colorado when they let in three Avs goals in the final 2:24 of the game.
"It's important," Chicago forward Patrick Kane said. "You never want to get shut out by a team, and then they've got a lot of confidence over you -- even if you get to match up against 'em in the playoffs. We want to prove something tonight."
It probably won't be easy. The Avs have great speed and skill, not to mention an abundance of youth. Forwards Matt Duchene, Paul Stastny, Tomas Fleischmann, Milan Hejduk and David Jones each have scored more than 10 goals and 20 points, while defensemen John-Michael Liles (5 goals, 30 points) and Kevin Shattenkirk (5 goals, 20 points) also add offense regularly.
Limiting scoring opportunities is something the Hawks have struggled with in the first three games against Colorado, which may lead some to think the Avs have a matchup advantage. Liles disagrees.
"We've gotten some timely goals," he said. "The first game was in overtime, and a lot can take place in overtime. We got a timely goal there and then last time we were here we got some big third-period goals. It was an extremely even game, actually. Fleischmann had a big third period. I think that's pretty much all it is."
Taking a look back, you can see what Liles means.
In that Dec. 12 game, two of the three goals allowed in the Avs' late flurry were started by Hawks turnovers in their own end. Just three days later, in a 4-3 loss on Dec. 15 at the United Center, Fleischmann got his first career hat trick by scoring all three goals in the third period.
Losing a fourth to Colorado, especially if it happened in a similar fashion at home, would be a bitter pill for the defending Stanley Cup champions.
"It's an important game for that reason and for a lot of other reasons, as well," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said after Chicago's morning skate. "You look back, and the opening game we could've gotten two that night. Then the frustrating game of the year, to me, was the last game in their building (the 7-5 loss). We had something to do coming home the next game (against them) and didn't do anything about it. It's our last chance and we value these two points. There's a lot at stake in a lot of ways."
Leddy looking good: Young Chicago defenseman Nick Leddy has only been back for two games, but he's already making a good impression.
The 19-year old Leddy started the season with Chicago, but after six games was sent to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League in mid-October. He then competed for the United States in the IIHF World Juniors Championship held late December through early January in Buffalo, N.Y.
Instead of rejoining the IceHogs, Leddy was recalled to Chicago after the WJC -- before a Jan. 7 game against Ottawa. Leddy also played in Chicago's 5-0 win against the New York Islanders this past Sunday at the United Center. Playing alongside Jordan Hendry in the Hawks' third D-pairing, Leddy hasn't recorded a point since returning -- but his play caught the coach's eye.
"He looks a little bit bigger (and) stronger," Quenneville said. "I like his patience with the puck and his reads in the game. He should continue to get his positioning more exactly where he wants it to be, but you just appreciate his reads and his poise out there for a young kid. You just look at his upside, and it's very bright. That pair's been very solid for us in the two games."
Liles not sulking: Colorado defenseman John-Michael Liles has cooled off since starting the season with a nine-game point streak, but some figured his five goals and 30 points would get him an invitation to the 2011 NHL All-Star Weekend on Jan. 29-30 in Raleigh, N.C.
It didn't, but Liles is taking the snub in stride.
"There's part of me that would love to be there, but there's also part of me that says, 'I'll take the three or four days off and rest my body a little bit,'" he said. "I think everybody that was named was very deserving. I'll definitely enjoy my time away from the game and get ready for the rest of the season. Any days that you can get off, you've got to take advantage of."
Avs veteran defenseman Adam Foote, overhearing Liles talk about resting, couldn't help but comment.
"You'll probably be snowboarding," Foote said.
"Not true," Liles said, smiling. "Not true. I wish. They all think I snowboard because of the (long) hair."
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