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posted: 4/6/2013 8:22 PM

Blackhawks have put themselves in prime spot

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  • Blackhawks left wing Bryan Bickell is congratulated by Michal Handzus after Bickell scored on a Handzus assist for the only goal in Saturday's victory against the Predators at Nashville.

      Blackhawks left wing Bryan Bickell is congratulated by Michal Handzus after Bickell scored on a Handzus assist for the only goal in Saturday's victory against the Predators at Nashville.
    Associated Press

 
 

For such a short hockey season, the start of it some 11 weeks ago feels like a distant memory.

For the Blackhawks, there was the record start, followed by the inevitable letdown, expected injuries and cries for an upgrade at virtually every position, especially with the Hawks playing at a relatively pedestrian 7-5-1 since the remarkable 24-game point streak concluded.

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But with so few sellers at the trade deadline, the Hawks didn't buy much, while keeping intact their cap health and bundle of future prospects and picks, not to mention the current roster.

The Hawks shopped around, but every conversation began with another club asking for Brandon Saad. So the Hawks settled for acquiring Michal Handzus, a capable center who can win faceoffs and pass the puck and has the hands to play with just about anyone on the roster.

Handzus doesn't play as big as his size (6-5, 215), and at 36 he's obviously not as fast as he once was. But the Hawks had a need, Handzus fills it, and they gave up only a fourth-round pick in the process.

So where are the Hawks vs. the rest of the contenders?

Pittsburgh was clearly the biggest threat until Sidney Crosby's injury. Now who knows what will become of the Penguins. Pittsburgh traded for just about every big, old grinder on the market, but the Pens also got slower.

Boston and Montreal might still have something to say about who comes out of the East.

As for the West, Anaheim did its work ahead of the deadline, signing Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, and -- like the Hawks -- the Ducks have slowed down of late.

Vancouver, San Jose and Los Angeles have all played better over the last few weeks, and like Anaheim, those are big teams that like to pound the Hawks and have had success softening up the Chicago defense.

But no team in the West did anything at the deadline to scare the Hawks, nothing like what the Kings did a year ago when they picked up Jeff Carter and went on to win the Stanley Cup.

Columbus, Minnesota and St. Louis made deals to improve for the short term, but the West looks a lot like it did a few weeks ago.

The Hawks have built up a nice points cushion with the great start, so now it's about getting healthy, getting to the finish line without any serious injuries, and getting back on a run when the playoffs begin in a little more than three weeks.

The key for them will be matchups and handling the size in the West that is sure to punish their defense just as Phoenix did last spring.

If the Hawks can keep their wits about them and not go to pieces, and assuming Corey Crawford and Ray Emery can hold it together, the Hawks should still be favored to emerge from a tough Western Conference.

Even without a major trade last week, the Hawks have as good a chance as anyone to dance with the Cup again.

Goaltending

The Hawks would love for Crawford to find his game from the playoffs two years ago against Vancouver. That's plenty good enough to win the Stanley Cup and better than Emery's best. Crawford showed that talent at times against Phoenix last year and again through long stretches this season.

You would think Joel Quenneville will start the playoffs with Crawford, and see how it goes, but he won't be afraid to start Emery, who has played like a No. 1 goalie this season.

It might be reminiscent of 30 years ago, when the Hawks rotated Tony Esposito and Murray Bannerman through a couple of playoff seasons, staying with the winning goaltender until he lost a game.

Milestone

Joel Quenneville reached 1,200 games coached Saturday. The only other man to play 800-plus games and coach 1,200-plus games was Jacques Lemaire.

Cy Young trivia

R.A. Dickey was just the fourth Cy Young Award winner to be traded before the next season, following David Cone (K.C. to Toronto, 1995), Pedro Martinez (Montreal to Boston, 1997) and Roger Clemens (Toronto to Yanks, 1999).

The following players won the Cy Young and moved on as free agents: Catfish Hunter (Oakland to Yanks, 1974), Mark Davis (S.D. to K.C., 1989) and -- sorry -- Greg Maddux (Cubs to Atlanta, 1992).

First and last

Former Cubs and White Sox pitcher Jaime Navarro -- now the Seattle bullpen coach -- and his dad, Julio, were the first father and son to each record a major-league save. They were followed by Pedro Borbon Sr. and Jr., Steve and Jason Grilli, and Jeff and James Russell.

Off the mark

NBC's Jimmy Fallon: "President Obama shot baskets at the White House and made only 2 shots out of 22. Even Dick Cheney was like, 'That guy needs to learn how to shoot.'"

Best headline

Sportspickle.com: "Several awful baseball teams foolishly optimistic for new season."

Dollar daze

Omaha World-Herald's Brad Dickson: "The Auburn football spring game was tainted when three players refused to come out for the second half unless they got pay raises."

And finally

Louisville's Kevin Ware, with CBS' David Letterman, on the No. 1 thing that went through his mind when he was injured last week: "At least my bracket's not busted."

brozner@dailyherald.com

•Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM, and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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