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Central Intelligence: Blackhawks Roll Into Bye Week

Chicago maintains pace with Minnesota in race for the top spot in Central Division

by Dan Myers @1DanMyers /

While the Minnesota Wild continues its solid play, the Chicago Blackhawks have managed to keep pace and remain within striking distance in the Central Division standings.

Currently enjoying their bye week, the Blackhawks embarked on a make-or-break road trip at the start of the month that had the potential to make a run at the division crown much more difficult.

Instead, Chicago went 5-0-0 on the trip, winning all five in either regulation or overtime, to gain some ground on the division-leading Wild.

"It seemed like we got better and better over the last five games," defenseman Duncan Keith told the Chicago Sun-Times following a 5-1 win in Edmonton on Saturday. "It's a lot more of the team game we're going to need going forward. I think we're starting to show some of our potential."

After a 4-3 win in Arizona to start the trip on Feb. 2, the Blackhawks followed with a victory in Dallas and an overtime win in Minnesota and before finishing the trip with dominating victories in Winnipeg and Edmonton, played on back-to-back nights. 

Had Chicago lost even two of those games, the Blackhawks may have been staring at a double-digit points deficit before they return to action on Saturday at home against the Oilers.

Teams coming off the bye week have won just three of 12 games.

"That was probably the best four-line rotation we've had in any stretch all year long. Our defense was excellent. [Scott Darling] was great in the net," said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. "Talk about any of the last five games, it's all positive, all good situations whether it's special teams or a big line, or blocking shots, doing whatever you can in all situations. It was good to see. We're definitely improving our team game. It's tough to win five games on the road."

After playing Edmonton, which promises to be a tough test coming off the layoff, Chicago hits the road again for two more games, playing at Buffalo before a rematch with the Wild in St. Paul on Tuesday. 

The game will be especially crucial for Minnesota; it's the last game before the Wild's five-day hiatus allows Chicago an opportunity to make up ground.

Yeo era off to good start

Speaking of winning road trips, the St. Louis Blues just came off a perfect five-game trip of their own, coinciding with the beginning of Mike Yeo's tenure as head coach of the Blues.

It was the first time in franchise history the Blues embarked on a five-game road trip and came home with wins in every game.

The former Wild bench boss, who took over for Ken Hitchcock on Feb. 1, is off to a 7-1-0 start with the Blues, moving St. Louis into a strong third place in the Central Division.

St. Louis, which posted a 5-8 record in the month of January before Hitchcock's dismissal, has made a couple of subtle defensive tweaks that have made all the difference for goaltenders Carter Hutton and Jake Allen. 

The Blues allowed just three goals total on the recent five-game trip.

"We're giving up stuff, but we know what we're giving up," Hutton told The Sports Xchange. "If we're going to give up the perimeter one-timer, it's easy for us to see and we can collect it. When it's scrambly in the D-zone, we were giving up such high-quality chances and it makes it a little harder on us. When we can see pucks and know what's coming at us, it makes it a little easier to prepare."

Strader returns this weekend

Despite an up-and-down season for the Stars on the ice, Dallas will soon get a boost off the ice, as play-by-play voice Dave Strader is scheduled to return to the booth this weekend.

Strader, who has missed all of this season battling cholangiocarcinoma -- a rare and aggressive form of cancer -- is one of the NHL's beloved announcers and has been calling NHL games for more than three decades.  

A familiar voice to fans across the country, Strader called games for 10 years on Versus and NBC Sports Network before taking the Dallas job with FOX Sports Southwest prior to last season.

Strader will call five games between Feb. 18 and March 2 before returning to upstate New York to continue treatment.

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