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updated: 3/10/2013 4:10 PM

Streak over, Blackhawks set sights on Cup

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  • Jonathan Toews, second from left, is congratulated by teammates Brandon Saad and Duncan Keith after giving the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead Friday night at Colorado. It was their last lead as the Avalanche scored 5 straight goals to give the Hawks their first defeat in regulation in the 25th game of the season.

      Jonathan Toews, second from left, is congratulated by teammates Brandon Saad and Duncan Keith after giving the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead Friday night at Colorado. It was their last lead as the Avalanche scored 5 straight goals to give the Hawks their first defeat in regulation in the 25th game of the season.
    Associated Press


The Blackhawks have lost. Take a deep breath. The world has not come to an end.

Only the streak has.

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The streak is over. Long live the streak.

While extraordinarily entertaining for Chicago fans, and a post-lockout gift for the NHL that Gary Bettman didn't deserve, in some ways it's probably a relief for Hawks players and coaches that the focus is now back on the goal of winning the big prize.

The truth is the Hawks haven't won anything yet. They have jumped out to a big points lead, which is invaluable in a short season, and they have proved through 25 games to be the best team in hockey.

But they don't hand out rings in March, and in a normal season they wouldn't have played a third of the schedule yet.

Still, if things continue as they have, the Hawks have a chance to go very deep in the postseason and there ought to be some award winners on this squad -- but perhaps not among the players.

Joel Quenneville would be the runaway winner for Coach of the Year if the vote were held today, and GM Stan Bowman is starting to get some recognition for building depth on a squad that was ravaged by a cap purge following the Cup win in 2010.

The Hawks have eight players with at least 5 goals, and the goals just from those eight are as many (or more) than 11 teams have scored this season.

The trade for Johnny Oduya and the decision to re-sign him has changed the entire defensive posture of a team that struggled the last two years. No less than four positions on defense were upgraded with one trade, and it is the single biggest reason the Hawks are so much better this season.

It's not an easy election for Bowman because the award is voted on by the league's 30 general managers plus five NHL execs and five members of the media.

Most of those GMs and press members are buddies with Dale Tallon, and many will never vote for Bowman based on that alone.

Still, Bowman has done a terrific job given the circumstances under which he had to operate, with an exploding payroll and few trade partners willing to do the Hawks any favors.

As for the players, good luck picking a league MVP off this roster. Patrick Kane will get a lot of votes because he's a human highlight reel, but many of his goals have been open-netters because of the fabulous play around him.

After a career-worst year last season, Kane has been brilliant, but he's hardly alone. Jonathan Toews is doing what he always does, which is play great at both ends of the ice, and he is still the team's best player.

Toews' defensive play -- and insistence that the forwards try as hard as he does in their own end -- has had a huge impact. Maybe this will be the year Toews finally wins the Selke.

Nevertheless, Sidney Crosby is the best player in the league and, assuming health, he's the MVP again for the first time since his second year in the NHL (2006-07). Crosby is on pace for 78 points, or 8 more than Eric Lindros and Jaromir Jagr had to lead the league in the last 48-game season (1994-95).

Meanwhile, Steven Stamkos -- who was tops with 60 goals last year -- is on pace for 36 this season, 2 more Peter Bondra scored as the league leader in '94-'95.

The Hawks don't have a single obvious candidate because their depth up front has been the real offensive MVP, and only a few games have been won strictly because of offense. As they proved Friday night, when they play poor defensively and in goal, offense is irrelevant.

Yeah, it's the defense and goaltending that have been the real story, but there's probably not an award there, either.

With two exceptions -- including Friday night -- Corey Crawford (11-1-3) has been outstanding, but Ray Emery (10-0-0) is getting nearly as much publicity in North America for his great play, so it will be tough for Crawford to win the Vezina.

On defense, Duncan Keith (+2) is best known after his Norris-winning season of 2010, but Brent Seabrook (+2) probably has been the Hawks' best defenseman this year, and Oduya (+11) has made Niklas Hjalmarsson (+9) twice the player he was the last two years.

That has allowed Nick Leddy (+10) to flourish as a No. 5, and Leddy, in turn, has made Michal Rozsival (+11) a comfortable No. 6.

So it may be that the Hawks' only awards come off the ice, behind the bench or in the front office.

Of course, if you ask them they'll tell you the only hardware they're interested in is that big silver chalice you get to dance with after capturing the final 4 victories in June.

If they don't get that opportunity, no individual award or record for streaks will amount to much.

But you get there with great goaltending and you win it by playing great team defense, and there is one award given to the players for that.

They call those players the Stanley Cup champs.

•Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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