THE BENCHMARK FOR WINTER CLASSICS

by Ron Spence

This season’s Winter Classic promises to be the best so far.

The Central Division’s top team – the Red Wings who have 51 points – will be facing the club snapping at their heals.

Chicago, which has won 9 straight games – and has 47 points with 2 games in hand – will be challenging the Stanley Cup champs.

The two teams will be facing off tomorrow in Detroit – a prelude to the Classic two days later.

But, this particular extravaganza means more than just a division title.

It will give hockey and non-hockey fans the opportunity to see the NHL’s hottest team challenging the reigning champs.

It should become the benchmark for Winter Classics to come.

wint

courtesy of chicagotribune.com

Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune, writes about the surging Hawks:

Win streak has Blackhawks reassessing their potential

As Hawks go for record 9th straight win, goals changing

“The Blackhawks are beginning to amaze even themselves.

During Friday night’s triumph over the Philadelphia Flyers [followed by a win over Minnesota], their franchise-record-tying eighth consecutive victory, Patrick Kane allowed himself to take in his surroundings.

“I was on the bench thinking, ‘Is our team really this good that we’re beating a team like Philly, who was as hot as us, 5-1?’ ” the second-year winger said.

Kane knew the answer after the Hawks finished off the Flyers by that score, and he knew it after Saturday’s practice in Bensenville.

“We’re really confident right now,” said Kane, who leads the Hawks in scoring with 16 goals and 25 assists. “Who knows how far this team can go? We have to keep it up. We have to keep going. A lot of things are going right right now, and hopefully we can keep it up.”

The Hawks have set their sights on breaking the record they share with the 1971-72 and ’80-81 teams when they face the Wild on Sunday night in Minnesota.

“If we win, we’re pretty much alone in history for the Blackhawks,” Kane said. “That’s pretty special for an Original Six team.

“It would be nice to get that one and give ourselves some confidence as a team that we are pretty good and maybe one of the best in Blackhawks history.”

The Hawks have raised expectations among fans and themselves with their play in December, during which they have at least one point in 10 consecutive games (9-0-1). The goal of reaching the playoffs for the first time since the 2001-02 season has morphed into a bit more.

“Playoffs at the start of the season was our goal, and I think now we can do more damage than that,” defenseman Brian Campbell said. “We just have to stay consistent with ourselves, and we’ll find a way. Definitely our goal is to finish first in our division and go from there.”
“If you look at San Jose and Detroit, the two top teams in the [Western] conference, we wanted to position ourselves to close that gap,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “We still feel like there’s a big pack that’s [behind them] but there’s a little room there now, so let’s try to push ahead and try to accomplish the next goal. Right now, all of a sudden, it’s a different objective than it was.”

For now, the Hawks are concentrating on keeping an even keel during their December to remember.

“It’s tough to find a weakness in our team game right now,” forward Patrick Sharp said. “That’s a good sign. The best thing about this whole eight games is that the team has stayed pretty mellow. We’re enjoying the ride, but we’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves. It has been a lot of fun.”

*****************************************************************

Detroit will be ready for the Windy City upstarts, but they’re having some PK problems.

Plus, Chris Osgood won’t be playing and Nick Lidstrom is injured.

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