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Hatching Hawks

The Chicago Blackhawks sit fourth in the West with a 34-16-8 record, 10 points behind the division-leading Red Wings. (Photo by Dale MacMillan/Getty Images)

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The Chicago Blackhawks sit fourth in the West with a 34-16-8 record, 10 points behind the division-leading Red Wings. (Photo by Dale MacMillan/Getty Images)

If there’s a team ready to exploit a seam in the West, it’s the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks are clearly the top two clubs in the Western Conference, but neither one of them has looked bulletproof this year.

I don’t care how good Detroit is, at some point in every playoff game and every playoff series, you need better goaltending than the Wings have been getting.

And what’s this I hear about springtime demons in San Jose?

Chicago is a young team and probably not a true contender, yet, but it has scoring depth up front, three very good defensemen and two goalies capable of stellar – though maybe not spectacular – play.

It still feels a little premature for the Hawks to leave the nest and fly with the big boys, but don’t count out Chicago as a possible Western Conference champ just yet.

THE HOCKEY NEWS POWER RANKINGS
RK.
TEAM
LW
OVERALL
L10
THE SCOOP
1
San Jose Sharks
6
40-8-9
4-2-4
Big Joe heating up; Thornton has 10 points over his past five games
2
Detroit Red Wings
2
39-13-8
7-2-1
Jimmy Howard, the eternal prospect, lost 5-2 to Minnesota in his first NHL start in almost one year exactly
3
Washington Capitals
3
38-17-5
7-2-1
Only three players (not including the injured Paul Kariya) have more points-per-game than Alexander Semin's 1.27
4
Chicago Blackhawks
8
34-16-8
7-3-0
Jonathan Toews has five goals and nine points in his past five games, completely compensating for his slow sophomore start
5
Calgary Flames
7
35-18-6
5-3-2
Did a nice job of beating division foes Edmonton and Minnesota with top center Daymond Langkow out of the lineup due to a bruised hand
6
New Jersey Devils
1
38-19-3
6-4-0
Blanked twice in three games last week, losing 4-0 to both Florida and, uh, the Islanders
7
Vancouver Canucks
14
30-21-8
8-1-1
Just one regulation loss in their past 10 and Roberto Luongo still hasn't completely found his game
8
Boston Bruins
4
40-12-8
4-4-2
One win in their past seven as Beantowners endure the roughest patch of their storybook year
9
Philadelphia Flyers
5
31-17-9
6-4-0
Special teams have been good, with power play ranking fourth overall and penalty-killing seventh
10
Florida Panthers
12
30-21-8
7-3-0
For all the trade talk, there's a good case to be made for keeping Jay Bouwmeester, too
11
Carolina Hurricanes
16
31-25-5
6-4-0
Quietly playing some good hockey under Paul Maurice
12
Columbus Blue Jackets
9
30-24-6
6-3-1
Will they trade for an offensive-minded middle man this week?
13
Dallas Stars
11
29-22-7
6-4-0
With key players Brad Richards and Brenden Morrow out of the lineup, Mike Ribeiro has driven the Dallas attack with 18 points over his past 16 games
14
Minnesota Wild
19
30-24-4
6-3-1
Suddenly Minnesota looks very interested in making the playoffs with big wins over Detroit and Chicago
15
Nashville Predators
10
28-28-4
5-4-1
After a hot start, Shea Weber went 14 games without a goal until getting an overtime-winner versus St. Louis
16
Anaheim Ducks
15
29-27-5
5-5-0
Long term direction of the franchise could be determined by moves made in the next eight or nine days
17
Montreal Canadiens
22
31-22-7
3-6-1
Tomas Plekanec showing signs of life with five goals and eight points over his past five contests
18
Buffalo Sabres
13
31-23-6
5-4-1
Ryan Miller's ankle sprain is a crushing blow to Buffalo's playoff chances
19
Edmonton Oilers
18
29-25-5
4-4-2
Can't feel good about giving up a late goal to the Flames, then losing in a shootout on Hockey Day in Canada
20
Pittsburgh Penguins
24
29-26-6
5-4-1
It's official; Sid doesn't want to play nice with Ovie and the NHL should be ecstatic about that
21
New York Rangers
21
31-23-7
2-5-3
Ten losses in 12 games just too much for Tom Renney to keep his job
22
Colorado Avalanche
26
28-31-1
5-5-0
Ryan Smyth could be moved before the deadline and what playoff-bound team wouldn't want that guy?
23
Toronto Maple Leafs
25
22-26-12
3-3-4
Mikhail Grabovski's play has trailed off after two good months to start the season
24
St. Louis Blues
23
25-26-8
5-2-3
He won't be back this year, but young defenseman Erik Johnson did return to the ice last week for the first time since tearing a knee ligament in September
25
Phoenix Coyotes
28
27-28-5
3-7-0
A playoff berth can still be had with a hot finish to the year
26
Ottawa Senators
20
22-27-9
5-3-2
Four days after fracturing his jaw, Daniel Alfredsson was back in the lineup for a team that is well out of the playoff race. Now that's a captain
27
Los Angeles Kings
17
25-24-9
5-3-2
Bad first periods are killing the Kings' playoff chances
28
Atlanta Thrashers
29
21-33-6
4-5-1
Picked up five of a possible eight points on a very respectable western road swing
29
Tampa Bay Lightning
27
20-28-12
3-5-2
What crazy move does this team have in store for us before the deadline?
30
New York Islanders
30
18-35-6
3-6-1
Did a good job of turning Mike Comrie and Chris Campoli into a first round pick

The Hockey News ranks the teams 1-30 each Monday based on a combination of last week’s play and a squad’s overall outlook.

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