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Key dates loom in Hawks' playoff quest
By Tim Sassone | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 10/10/2008 12:05 AM

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NEW YORK - It can be overwhelming to look at the Blackhawks' entire 82-game schedule and try to predict where the 95 to 100 points will come from that they'll likely need to make the playoffs.

Some coaches like to break the season down into five-game segments. Hawks coach Denis Savard prefers to look at it in increments of 10 games to give the team short-term goals to shoot for in terms of wins and losses, goals scored and goals against.

Here are a few dates that stick out as potential measuring points for the Hawks along the way over the next six months.

Oct. 25 vs. Detroit at United Center

This is the first opportunity for the Hawks to see how they stack up with the Stanley Cup champs, who have added Marian Hossa to their stable of stars.

The Hawks were 5-3 against the Red Wings last season, yet still finished 28 points behind them in the Central Division. The Hawks believe they are better this year, but so are the Red Wings.

Oct. 31 vs. Dallas at United Center

This ends the first 10-game segment, which Savard has emphasized as important. Six wins would show the Hawks are legitimate. Any more and this might be a special team. Fewer than 6 wins will start people worrying.

Nov. 3 Colorado at United Center

The game with the Avs starts a stretch of five in a row at home before the six-game circus trip. It would be encouraging if the Hawks gave themselves a little cushion before going to Phoenix, Dallas, Toronto, San Jose, Anaheim and Los Angeles.

Dec. 20 at Vancouver

Here is the Hawks' last game before Christmas, and 31 games will have been in the books _ more than a quarter but not yet half of the season.

Mike Keenan would say when he coached the Hawks that if a team wanted to collect 100 points and make the playoffs, it better get as many points as possible before Christmas because the season only gets tougher and more tiring after that.

Jan. 28 at Anaheim

Here's a stretch that could tilt the season one way or another as the Hawks kick off an eight-game road trip, against the Ducks, during which they will play 11 of 12 games away from the United Center.

March 1 vs. Los Angeles at United Center

After a whirlwind month of February spent mostly on the road, the Hawks play 11 of 15 games at home in March starting here - eight against conference opponents. There can be no slip-ups for a team trying to make the playoffs.

April 11-12 vs. Detroit

OK, this is a long way off. Baseball will have started by the time the Hawks finish the regular season with back-to-back games against the Red Wings. Will the games matter? If they do, it could be the highlight of the season.