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Through the Fire and Flames – Blackhawks 4 Flames 1

April 5, 2010

Take a minute. Breathe in the beautiful air that we’re experiencing in the Chicagoland area today.  Does something feel different?  Maybe something you’ve never felt before, or something you just haven’t felt in a long time.  No its not that feeling of love that comes around in the Spring.  Its the feeling of winning the Central Division for the first time ever.  That’s right, its the first time.  Last time the Hawks won the division, it was the Norris in 1992-93.

Of course, the Hawks winning the division had nothing to do with the game yesterday.  It was all locked up by the time the anthem started, thanks to the Flyers who beat the Wings 4-3 just before the game started.  So it was pretty nice to go into the game knowing even with a loss, the Hawks had a top 3 spot mathematically locked up.  There was just something about it that was calming.

I liked the way the Hawks looked for most of the game yesterday.  The most reassuring thing is players moving back towards their roles.  The first goal came on a rebound off the end boards that Kopecky was able to pick up and finish.  Notice his positioning on the play: right in front of the goalie.  And Brouwer’s goal?  Yup, rebound right in front of Kipper.  During the slump the last few weeks, we didn’t see many of those plays.  Everyone got too cute/lazy and nobody went to the front of the net.

Its more good things you want to hear about? Okay, how about penalties.  In the last two games, the Hawks have averaged .5 PKs per game.  A big part of having a great PK like the Hawks has to do with the killers having fresh legs.  Discipline won’t win you a whole lot of games, but it will keep you from blowing them.

Another good sign is all the shots the Hawks were blocking.  Dunc had 6 and Buff was credited with 4.  Niemi has looked good lately (very good).  And blocking shots really helps make the goalie’s job easier.

Speaking of goalies, Niemi put up another pretty good showing.  His angle on the goal he let in was questionable, but he’s show to make some really flashy saves.  The rest of the games should go to him as he gets set for the playoffs, with the exception of one of the back to backs.  It’ll be interesting to see if he can keep up this level of play.  If he does, Huet becomes extremely expendable this offseason (I wouldn’t mind trading him for picks at the draft, which would clear up cap space).

I was a bit surprised at how the Flames played.  They definitely didn’t look like a team that was fighting for their playoff hopes.  They pretty much eliminated themselves thanks to the Avs picking up the full 2 points against the Sharks.  At least it clarifies the playoff picture a little bit.  That’s not to say its very clear at all though.  The Hawks are 2 points back of the Sharks with one extra game to play.  Should they tie the Sharks, the Hawks would get the 1st seed with more wins.  If the Hawks take 1st, they’ll almost certainly play the Avalanche.  If they take 2nd, they could play any of the Wings, Kings, or Avs.  The 5-7 seeds are a total mess because the Preds have played 2 more games than the Kings and one more than the Wings.  Hopefully we’ll have a better idea by the middle of this week as to who the Hawks will play.

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