Nice playoff-type win for the Blackhawks on Sunday over Nashville's finest (they of the unsettling Predator logo featuring a saber-toothed tiger with front teeth so long they would make its neck look like an electrical outlet if it ever closed its mouth) but not a great week overall. It featured a Thursday loss to the average Avalanche followed by one of the worst performances of the season Saturday in the first half of the back-to-back with the Preds. Ominous tidings perhaps?

A quick check of the standings reveals . . . very little cause for concern. The Hawks are four points up on the Ducks and Canucks, who are tied for fifth in the Western Conference (at some point the fact that the Bulls are in the Eastern Conference and the Hawks are in the West is going to trip me up, but not this week). And both of the 'ucks have played four fewer games than the 'awks. The division leaders occupy the top three spots and unless the Hawks reel off another big ol' win streak in the second half (one that preferably features a victory or two over the boys from Hockey Town), they won't threaten the Red Wings for a spot in that number. But fourth (out of the eight that qualify for the post-season) is a fine figure to shoot for.

During an interview right before the start of the third period on Comcast on Sunday, assistant coach Mike Haviland noted that the most important thing at this point for the Hawks is to take care of business at home. They have played two more games on the road than at United Center, and a decent win percentage on familiar ice combined with something close to .500 on the road puts the Hawks in the playoffs. And you have to love the potential for this young team to avoid any sort of late-season, fatigue-related letdown.

As for Sunday's game in particular, it was notable first and foremost for yet another strong performance by Nikolai Khabibulin (now 7-0-3 at home this season) between the pipes. The Hawks generated some scoring chances during the last 20 minutes, but mostly they protected a one-goal lead (before scoring an empty-netter with nine seconds left to make the final 3-1). And Khabibulin was up to the task as he has been time after time in the last month-plus. It used to be you could guarantee the Bulin Wall would crumble critically when the Hawks had a chance to record a big win. But that's not happening this time around. On the other hand, it is just classic that Khabibulin has waited until the final year of his contract (clearly the man is a latter-day money player . . . as opposed to the old school money player, who played his best when playoff proceeds were on the line) to finally put together a long stretch of stellar goaltending. It is reminiscent of the long stretch of uncanny puck-stopping ability he displayed for the Tampa Bay Lightning on their way to the Stanley Cup earlier this decade (which earned him the biggest contract in Blackhawks history when he tested free agency shortly thereafter).

And of course, Khabibulin waited until the Hawks committed major resources to the guy they thought would replace him (Cristobal Huet) before he finally found his way. But you don't get the feeling the Hawks are sweating the situation. They'll just ride Khabibulin as long as they can and then figure out the future in the off- season.

A few thoughts on . . .

College football: Psst, diehard college football fan . . . you do know all this stuff - all these bowls and the conference seasons that go before them - is the minor leagues, don't you? It is the hope of all real competitors in these games (as opposed to the pathetic NFL washouts like Alabama's little Nicky Saban - the coach who ranted and raved so impotently on the sideline of the Whatever Bowl as his supposed SEC powerhouse got its ass kicked by Utah in the highlight of this year's bowl season) to make it to the big league. Everyone with at least a little bit of ambition in these games wants to step up to the NFL. There is one significant difference between college football and, say, minor league baseball, though: At least the latter has integrity. In the billion-dollar business known as college football, everyone continues to get paid except the under-educated and under-represented stars of the show.

Pro football playoffs: So I guess the good old American male is still buying pickup trucks. We had a huge advertising blitz celebrating Ford trucks the last few weeks and then Chevy struck back this week. Meanwhile, Dodge has a huge set of ads celebrating its Ram trucks, Toyota touts its Tundras, and even GMAC gets in on the act with a truck with a name that escapes me. The good news is that in virtually all of these ads, the advocates stress their trucks' mileage numbers. No way that happens as little as a year ago.

In game action, I was rooting for the Steelers in the last game of the weekend just to restore a little normalcy. I'm having a very hard time processing the fact that the Arizona Cardinals (a team I mocked mercilessly a few weeks ago) will host an NFC championship game against the Philadelphia team that the Bears should have easily eliminated from the playoffs on the last Sunday of the regular season. I might have completely lost my bearings if Pittsburgh had gone down and formerly 4-8 San Diego had positioned itself to host the AFC championship game.

The Bulls: There was some more chatter last week about the Bulls potentially trading Larry Hughes, with Hughes clearly amenable to the possibility. And obviously a move would be good for the team and good for the player, eh? Except I've got news for Hughes: You're not going anywhere. There is no market for a player on the downside of his career who has made it clear he won't be happy if he doesn't start. There is no market for a player who despite his veteran status still forgets how to play team basketball far too frequently (most recently during the Bulls' brutal loss to the Thunder Saturday). And finally there is absolutely no market for a mediocre at best player due northwards of $12 million this year and even more the next.

The really neat thing about the situation with Hughes is if he isn't happy with his minutes now, he's going to be something slightly short of ecstatic when Kirk Hinrich returns and his playing time plummets even further. But hey, that's John "Action" Paxson's problem, not mine. And that will do for now.


Jim Coffman brings you the city's best weekend sports roundup every Monday because he loves you. You can write to him personally! Please include a real name if you would like your comments to be considered for publication.

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