Seeing Canucks should get Hawks' focus back

 
 
  • Jonathan Toews says the Blackhawks are happy the roster is set and the team can concentrate on the stretch run.

    Jonathan Toews says the Blackhawks are happy the roster is set and the team can concentrate on the stretch run. Associated Press

Published: 3/5/2010 12:00 AM

Whether they want to admit it or not, the Blackhawks have been a distracted bunch lately.

There was the hoopla of the Olympics then Wednesday's trade deadline. While the Hawks found a way to battle through it all, winning five of their last six games, they haven't played the greatest of hockey in weeks.

If the Hawks are looking to get their focus back, here comes the perfect opportunity - weekend homes games against their two biggest rivals in the Vancouver Canucks and the Detroit Red Wings.

The Canucks will be at the United Center on Friday night and might now be the team the Hawks dislike the most.

The two clubs have become fierce rivals over the course of the last two seasons that have included a nasty playoff series in the spring and a handful of incidents the Hawks no doubt have not forgotten.

• There was the brawl last season when Alex Burrows pulled Duncan Keith's hair during their fight.

• Willie Mitchell's head shot on Jonathan Toews in October knocked the Hawks' captain out of the lineup for six games with a concussion.

• And then on Jan. 23 in the last meeting at GM Place, Ryan Kesler called Andrew Ladd a coward, feelings the U.S. Olympic hero apparently had been holding in since the playoffs when the Hawks' winger broke Kesler's nose during a collision.

"Vancouver has some big weapons there, and we certainly have a little history with them as well the last couple years," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "I think those playoff series create some intensity and some rivalry.

"Call it animosity or whatever, but we know they're a team that's playing very well and one of the top teams in the conference."

This isn't the 1980s, so don't expect a Hawks-North Stars-like street fight, but perhaps a game filled with some nastiness is exactly what the Hawks need to get their game back to the levels of earlier in the year.

They appeared to take a step in the right direction in the third period of Wednesday's 5-2 win over the Oilers when the Hawks played some of their best hockey in a long time. They outshot the Oilers 14-3 and scored three times.

"It was a game where we were more like the team we can be," Toews said.

One thing the Hawks know now is that this is their team for the rest of the season, the one that got a strong vote of confidence from general manager Stan Bowman on Wednesday.

"This is our team now and we know nothing is going to change," Toews said. "We're happy about that and we can get comfortable and concentrate on the last 20 games."

While the goaltending of Cristobal Huet and Antti Niemi was under the microscope leading up to the trade deadline, the Hawks' all-around team defensive play has slipped in the last month.

"Our goaltenders are the ones taking the heat, but we need to play better in front of them," Toews said.

"Our goaltending has been fine," Quenneville said. "We've given up more goals over this recent stretch and I think collectively we should all feel some responsibility to improve that area. It's something we're going to stress going into now and through the stretch run."

Meanwhile, the Red Wings will come calling Sunday morning (11:30 a.m., Channel 5) in a must-win mode with their playoff hopes rising and falling with each day.

"We know we're right on the bubble," Detroit defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom said.

The longer Detroit hangs around seventh and eighth place in the Western Conference, the more real the possibility becomes of the Hawks and the Wings meeting in the first round of the playoffs.

Blackhawks game day

Vancouver Canucks at the United Center, 7:30 p.m. Friday

TV: Comcast SportsNet

Radio: WGN 720-AM

What to watch: These two teams simply do not like each other. The last time they met (Jan. 23) Vancouver's Ryan Kesler called Andrew Ladd a coward following a scrap. Canucks defenseman Willie Mitchell, who delivered a head shot to Jonathan Toews in October, remains out with an injury, along with teammate Kevin Bieksa. This is the 11th stop on the Canucks' 14-game road trip because of the Olympics. They are 6-4.

Season series: Canucks lead 2-1.

Next: Detroit Red Wings at the United Center, 11:30 a.m. Sunday