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Hawks hope to retain momentum as break nears

by Dan Rosen /
Chicago captain Jonathan Toews is bucking the trend this week and for once he's refusing to abide by the same "one game at a time" cliché heard too often from professional athletes.

The Blackhawks start a stretch of six straight road games coming out of the All-Star break, so Toews is looking at their games coming up -- Saturday at Detroit, Sunday vs. Philadelphia and Tuesday vs. Minnesota -- as a mini three-game series.

Chicago has won four of its last five games and Toews said the team is now starting to realize its potential, that the Hawks have been playing their best hockey of the season. Blowing that momentum now would eliminate the championship vibe that has returned to the Hawks dressing room.

"We're playing well right now and we know there is another break coming up, so it's time to empty your tank, put everything you can into these games," Toews told Thursday. "Everyone says you take it one game at a time, but it's kind of like a little series and we want to set a high standard for ourselves, not let these games get away from us."

The Blackhawks haven't played since beating Nashville at United Center on Sunday. By the time they hit the ice for warm-ups in Detroit on Saturday afternoon they'll have had five days to heal any lingering wounds, so there's no reason why they shouldn't be able to, as Toews said, "empty the tank."

Motivation shouldn't be an issue either, considering their opponents.

The Red Wings are their fiercest rival, so it's a given the Blackhawks expect to get up to play those games. The Flyers will be out for some measure of revenge after losing to the Blackhawks in last season's Stanley Cup Final.

That game is on NBC, too, and Patrick Kane told "those games always have more hype to them."

"I'm sure the fans are going to be wild that game, too," Kane added. "It's going to have a playoff feel to it, probably even a Stanley Cup feel to it."

Tuesday's game against the Wild won't have the same hype as the previous two, but it's the Hawks' final game before the break and they want to go into it with positive momentum after sloughing through some rough times earlier this season.

"One of the things we've struggled with this year is the way we play at home," said Kane, referring to the Blackhawks' 16-11-0 home record. "We were unbelievable at home last year (29-8-4) and this year we've kind of struggled. It'll be nice to leave our fans with something to be excited about when we go on that road trip."

It's time to go around the Western Conference. Eleven teams played Thursday night, so there's plenty to talk about now:

 Vancouver Canucks (29-10-8, 66 points)

The Canucks gave up 25 shots to San Jose in the second period Thursday and still managed to come away with a point. The problem was their 2-1 shootout loss was their third straight defeat. They've dropped four of their last five. Vancouver was bound to go through a slump considering how well it was playing, but allowing 25 shots in one period is a little alarming. "That's not the way we want to play," captain Henrik Sedin said.

 Detroit Red Wings (29-12-6, 64 points)

Lost in all the news surrounding Evgeni Nabokov's signing on Thursday was the return of Jimmy Howard, who stopped 26 shots in a 4-3 overtime win over St. Louis. Howard missed the two previous games with a knee bruise. Nabokov, should he clear waivers Saturday, is a big pickup at a bargain price for the Red Wings, who won't have Chris Osgood until next month at the earliest. Even if Nabokov makes it to Detroit, it would be hard to believe that Howard isn't still the firm No. 1 in net. If Nabokov does arrive, Howard will be pushed by a guy who is motivated to earn an NHL contract next season.

 Dallas Stars (29-13-5, 63 points)

The Stars are the hottest team in the NHL right now with five consecutive wins. Dallas has picked up 15 out of a possible 16 points this month to separate itself from the rest of the Pacific Division. Now the Stars are targeting first in the Western Conference, and they'll have a showdown Monday against Vancouver. They just can't stumble Friday night against Calgary. Dallas has won a team-record eight in a row on the road and Mike Ribeiro is in the midst of a career-high 10-game point streak (4 goals, 8 assists).

 Nashville Predators (26-15-6, 58 points)

Once again the Predators are quietly putting together another fantastic season. They've won nine of their last 11 games while outscoring their opponents by a 42-21 margin. Pekka Rinne is another big reason why the Predators have been so good lately. His eight wins in his last nine appearances since Dec. 31 matches the amount of wins he had in his first 22 appearances of the season. What's even more remarkable is the Predators don't have anybody who is remotely close to being a point-per-game player. Shea Weber leads the team with 29 in 47 games.

 Phoenix Coyotes (24-15-9, 57 points)

The Coyotes have scored only six goals in their last three games, a far cry from the 19 they potted during their recent four-game winning streak. However, Ilya Bryzgalov was brilliant Thursday in a 2-0 win over Los Angeles. Bryzgalov, who made 36 saves against the Kings, had given up eight goals over his previous two starts. Getting him back on track is essential for the Coyotes if they want to push the Stars for first place. Keith Yandle has points in six straight games (1 goal, 7 assists).

 Anaheim Ducks (26-20-4, 56 points)

The Ducks have played 50 games before 12 Western Conference teams have played 48. They've been ahead of the games played pace for the entire season. Their place in the standings is skewed by the amount of games they have in hand, but it's slowly coming back to normal. After playing a combined 29 games in November and December, Anaheim will play only 22 games between January and February. Eight of their next 13 games are on the road, though.

 Chicago Blackhawks (25-18-4, 54 points)

It's a good time to be a Blackhawk again. They've won four of their last five games and have had since Sunday to heal going into weekend games against Detroit and Philadelphia. Both Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane told Thursday that they believe the Hawks have finally found consistency in their game and the championship vibe has returned to the dressing room. They can prove it with more sharp play in their three games going into the All-Star break.

 Colorado Avalanche (24-17-6, 54 points)

Bad news hit the Avalanche on Thursday when they found out that Tomas Fleischmann will be gone for the season with a blood clot in each of his lungs. It's not believed to be career threatening, but Fleischmann will be on blood thinners for several months and won't be able to play while on them. He had 21 points in 22 games with the Avs since being acquired via trade from Washington on Nov. 30. Colorado didn't make matters any better with a 5-1 loss to Nashville on Thursday. The Avs have three more games, all at home, prior to the All-Star break.

 Minnesota Wild (24-18-5, 53 points)

The Wild have never played better this season than they are right now. They've won three in a row and outscored Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary by a 14-1 margin. Niklas Backstrom reclaimed his place in the lineup Wednesday in Calgary by making 37 saves in a 6-0 win. Backstrom missed nine games with a hip injury. Minnesota has now won seven of its last 10 games to climb within a point of a playoff spot. The key for the Wild is getting the first goal. They are 20-2-4 when they score first.

 San Jose Sharks (24-19-5, 53 points)

Last week in this column we blistered the Sharks pretty good. They were coming off a brutal 5-2 loss to Edmonton and had fallen into 12th place. Well, it's time to give credit where it's due. San Jose has strung together three straight wins since the lackluster loss to the Oilers to jump two spots in the standings and give some renewed hope to a concerned fan base. The Sharks have allowed only five goals in their last three games, including one Thursday to the first-place Canucks. Antti Niemi has been in net for all three wins and has stopped 98 of 103 shots.

 St. Louis Blues (22-17-7, 51 points)

The Blues delivered good news to the media in between periods during Thursday's 4-3 overtime loss to Detroit. Concussed forwards Andy McDonald and David Perron are progressing. GM Doug Armstrong told reporters that McDonald is symptom-free and has resumed skating. He said Perron is still experiencing symptoms but should begin light exercise soon. No return date has been set for McDonald yet, but he's finally close. The Blues could use the help. They're just 2-5-2 this month.

 Los Angeles Kings (24-22-1, 49 points)

Something is obviously wrong in Los Angeles because the Kings are having all kinds of problems right now. They've dropped 10 of their last 12 games and scored only 10 goals in their eight losses this month. Meanwhile, they've scored a combined 11 goals in their two wins. It's feast or famine, but famine is clearly dominating. Their power play hasn't scored in its last 19 chances.

 Columbus Blue Jackets (22-20-5, 49 points)

The Jackets have played four straight games into overtime, including two that needed a shootout, but they've come away with six of a possible eight points. They might be 13th in the West, but they're just five points behind the eighth-place Avalanche. That's a mini-win streak, which says something about how Columbus has responded since starting the month with a five-game losing streak. They were down 2-1 and being outshot 12-1 after 10 minutes Wednesday at Florida, but rebounded to win 3-2 in overtime.

 Calgary Flames (20-21-6, 46 points)

After playing a pair of strong games in Ottawa and Toronto, the Flames have reverted back to their lackluster ways, especially on defense. They've given up 11 goals in the last two games and lost them both. If you just discount the 3-2 win in Ottawa and the 2-1 shootout win in Toronto, Calgary has allowed 28 goals in its last six losses. The Flames have allowed 16 goals in their last three home games.

 Edmonton Oilers (14-25-7, 35 points)

Due to New Jersey's recent surge and Edmonton's four-game losing streak, the Oilers are now only four points from the NHL basement. Worse yet, they lost All-Star forward Ales Hemsky to a suspected concussion this week. There's no timetable for his return and his odds of playing in the All-Star Game obviously get worse by the day. Shawn Horcoff played Thursday for the first time since injuring his knee on Dec. 7. He missed 19 games and Edmonton went 4-13-2 without him.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl
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