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What, YOU again? Hawks visit Canuckleheads

Canada is known for its pacifism, however if you wear a Blackhawks jersey in downtown Vancouver you’re likely to get the snot beaten out of you. Mention the Canucks in Chicago, and the response will likely be, “Yeah, we’ve had their number for years.” Mention the ‘Hawks in Vancouver, and you’re likely to get spit on. They HAAAAYYYYTTTEEE us up there. And with good reason.

We bounced them out of the playoffs the last two years in a row, when they were convinced that they were going all the way.

This year they just might. They have three of the top-performing offensive threats in the Western Conference in the Sedin Sisters and Ryan Kesler who is having a career year. They are first in the league, running away with the Western Conference, and making the other teams in their division look like AHL clubs by comparison.

The question mark, as always, is goaltending. Roberto Luongo is a head case. Get 3 goals behind him, and he’s done for the night — period. The Blackhawks exploited this masterfully during the playoffs the last two years, and we’ve taken two out of three from them so far this season — including a 7 – 1 beat-down up at GM Place. Neither Bobby Lu nor Corey Schneider could withstand the Blackhawks’ 41-shot barrage that night.

So what will tonight entail? The Canucks are on a 4-game winning streak, and are starting a 4-game home stand tonight with Chicago in town. The ‘Hawks are well-rested and have all of their key players in the lineup, and just notched a sloppy but reassuring 7 – 4 win over Columbus the other night. On paper, with the Canucks dominating the West and the Blackhawks struggling for a playoff spot, it looks like a no-brainer. But in reality, this could go either way.

Goaltending is a question mark on the Blackhawks’ side also. The last meeting with Coach Prissy-Boy’s club we handed them a 3 – 0 shutout with Marty Turco in goal. Turco will get his second straight start tonight — something that hasn’t happened since his last two consecutive losses in late December — and we’ll know by the end of the first period if Coach Joel Quenneville made the right call.

Offensively for the Blackhawks it’s been a mixed bag. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa all scored during the win over the Blue Jackets (we’ll give Hoss credit, he did hustle to get the puck on that empty-netter), but overall our offense looked disjointed. Dave Bolland and Viktor Stalberg contributed from the forward ranks, and defensemen Duncan Keith and Nick Leddy both tallied on the back end.

This is good, but it doesn’t reflect the Blackhawks’ overall play. Their confidence is down, their execution is shaky, and it reflects in their playmaking ability. The power play looks crisp: their play at even strength looks tentative. Maybe it was just working out the cobwebs after the All-Star break, but overall I was not thrilled to see their breakouts falter and their milquetoast attempts to enter the attacking zone. That will need to get sharpened up, or the Vancouver back-checkers will pick us apart.

Notable for their absence: on the Canucks’ side, Sami Salo is still rehabbing, though he made a step forward by taking a conditioning assignment with the Manitoba Moose this week; the Canucks had six rookies called up and in the lineup for their game against Phoenix on Wednesday, their blueline having been decimated with injuries and illness; for the Blackhawks, John Scott is reported down with the flu (hey, go give Nick Boynton a big wet smooch, will ya big guy?), and Ryan Johnson will not make his first appearance against his former team tonight due to a lower-body injury.

Late start tonight: 9pm Chicago time. It’s a nation-wide broadcast for Canadian fans on TSN; WGN will have the game here in Chicago; broadcast radio is WGN AM-720; and XM subscribers should dial in on channel 209.

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