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Is it time to panic yet? Even the Islanders able to get past Hawks
By Tim Sassone | Daily Herald Staff

Coach Joel Quenneville and Dustin Byfuglien watch as the Blackhawks drop another game on home ice Sunday.


Associated Press

New York Islanders goalie Peter Mannino saves a shot during the third period of their 4-2 win over the Blackhawks.


Associated Press

Duncan Keith talks to official Brad Watson during the first period.


Associated Press

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Published: 3/15/2009 5:46 PM | Updated: 3/16/2009 12:06 AM

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At this rate, finishing fourth in the Western Conference might not be the Blackhawks' biggest concern.

They might not even make the playoffs if things don't get better soon.

Another loss on home ice to a last-place team has left the Hawks reeling at the worst possible time.

A week ago it was Colorado coming into the United Center last in the Western Conference and putting a 5-1 spanking on the Hawks. The New York Islanders, the Eastern Conference cellar dwellers, did it Sunday, winning 4-2 to hand the Hawks their fourth loss in the last five games and seventh in 10.

What was a 9-point lead for fourth place in the West is now down to 2 over Vancouver.

"We're not playing our system," Hawks winger Dustin Byfuglien said. "We've got to go back and figure out what made us successful earlier in the season before it's too late."

This is how bad it has become for the Hawks: They couldn't solve goalie Peter Mannino, who was making his first NHL start for the Islanders. Mannino made 39 saves, a few good ones but the majority easily stoppable.

"My teammates gave me some good looks on a lot of shots," Mannino said.

"We're getting chances, but we've got to bear down a little more," Hawks defenseman Brian Campbell said. "It's all the little things adding up for our hockey club right now. Every night it's a different area. It's frustrating, but you've got to keep working in practice and go over all the little details."

The Hawks might want to start with their defensive zone coverage, which has slipped badly. They've allowed 21 goals in the last five games, losing four of them.

The Hawks still own a 10-point cushion for a playoff spot, but with tough road games awaiting them Tuesday and Wednesday in New Jersey and Columbus, there's no reason not to think that number couldn't drop to 6 by the time they return home Friday to play Edmonton.

"We've got a tough two-game road trip, and I just think we've got to tighten it up," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "It would be nice to score first in one of these games because then you don't have to always force and let them get in the perfect defensive mind-set."

The Islanders got a power-play goal from Mark Streit at 12:19 of the second period to open the scoring.

Kris Versteeg's 20th goal of the season tied it at 15:40 of the second, but the Hawks were back chasing two minutes later when the Islanders' Richard Park scored. The Isles added a power-play goal from Frans Nielson with 51 seconds left in the second.

Not even Nikolai Khabibulin's return after missing 14 games with a groin injury could light a fire under the Hawks, who are playing like the least desperate team in the West.

"I just think there are stretches when everything is going right for you, and we're in a stretch right now where we're fighting it, and when I say fighting it, we're fighting to win," Quenneville said. "We've been playing too much catch-up to be successful."

Khabibulin was far from brilliant, allowing 4 goals on 19 shots, but he got little support offensively. The Hawks had three great scoring chances in the second period by Martin Havlat, Ben Eager and Duncan Keith when it still was scoreless, but nobody could finish.