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Hawks assembling a core of solid difference-makers
By Tim Sassone | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 12/26/2007 4:55 AM

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Blackhawks coach Denis Savard sees something special happening with his team -- and it would be hard to argue against him.

Young veterans such as Patrick Sharp, Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, James Wisniewski and Tuomo Ruutu are becoming difference-making NHL players.

Add to it the magic of rookies Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, the emergence of Dustin Byfuglien as a force and the veteran moxie of Robert Lang, Martin Havlat, Brent Sopel and Nikolai Khabibulin -- and it certainly appears the Hawks are on to something good.

"It doesn't matter who scores or who gets the assist, this group just wants to win," Savard said. "I don't know where this is going to bring us, I have no idea because you don't know what happens in course of the season. But I know we're going to continue playing like we have. What you're seeing here is special."

The Hawks couldn't have reached the Christmas break with any better momentum. Their 3-2 win over Edmonton on Sunday not only was their third straight, but it came in front of more than 20,000 in the United Center.

The players felt the fans were such a big part of the victory that they returned to the ice after the game and saluted the crowd with their sticks.

"I liked the move they made going back out and saluting the fans," Savard said. "They're bringing them back. The more people we get back, the more enthusiasm our guys are going to get."

Sharp was behind the curtain call, demonstrating the kind of leadership that has helped make him probably the Hawks most valuable player to this point. He also leads the Hawks with 18 goals.

"We thought there might be a letdown (after Saturday's overtime win in Ottawa), but the fans were great and they really helped," Sharp said. "It feels good. It feels exciting to be in Chicago, and we're all determined to turn this thing around."

If the Hawks continue to take off toward a playoff spot, they may look back on the Dec. 16 loss to Florida as a turning point.

It was after that game when Toews, the 19-year-old alternate captain, challenged his teammates by saying not enough of them hated to lose. The Hawks have won three in a row since then.

"Everyone has stepped up," Savard said. "We didn't like that feeling that we lost, and I think Toews summed it up best: We've got to care more about losing. I think people in our locker room realized you've got a 19-year-old stepping up to the plate and challenging all of us."

You see it every hockey season, when teams suddenly find a strong chemistry within the dressing room that helps carry them to great things. The Hawks have that look.

"We're just finding ways and gutting things out," Savard said. "They're giving their bodies and sacrificing and getting good results.

"There's a good atmosphere. They're playing for each other, playing for the guy next to them. They don't care what it's going to take, they're going to keep bringing it."

Scouting report

Blackhawks vs. Nashville Predators at the United Center, 7:30 p.m.

TV: Comcast SportsNet

Radio: WSCR 670-AM

The skinny: The Hawks have won three games in a row, a streak that started last Wednesday with a victory over the Predators. The Hawks are down two more forwards with Dave Bolland (broken finger) and Martin Havlat (groin) sidelined indefinitely. Nashville leads the season series 2-1. The teams have split two games in Chicago.

Player to watch: Nikolai Khabibulin. The Hawks' goalie has been the difference in the last 2 victories.

Next game: Sunday vs. the Los Angeles Kings at the United Center, 6 p.m.

-- Tim Sassone