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SportsMonday

By Jim Coffman

Did anyone see the first five minutes of the Hawks game yesterday? I knew the listings said the game in Detroit was starting at 11:30 a.m. CST on NBC, but I just couldn't quite believe they would begin a hockey game at that hour. I was sure there would be at least 15 minutes of pre-game palaver, but instead, when I turned it on at 11:40-something, five minutes were already gone. Fortunately the scoring didn't begin until a few minutes later. And the fighting didn't start until shortly before the first intermission.

Anyway, the Hawks' Troy Brouwer fired in the first goal and Patrick Kane made a nifty move to skate the puck from the sideboards into the slot and fire it into the net a few minutes later to double the Hawks advantage. The power play goal was Kane's 20th of the season. A few more minutes went by and it appeared Chicago would take a nice little lead into the second period. But then momentum swung one way and then the other like back-to-back end-to-end rushes.

Nicklas Lidstrom capped off an impressive little series of Red Wing passes by flipping in a dreaded last-minute (in a period) goal. That's the sort of tally that oftentimes turns potentially comfortable 3-0 or 4-0 wins into much tighter nail-biters. We only had a couple moments to contemplate the likelihood of such a scenario before out of the blue, gloves were dropped.

It's a fight! I know I shouldn't be as excited about guys squaring off on the ice as I was when I was younger, but the feeling just isn't going away. Which heavyweight is it? The Hawks' Ben Eager maybe? Or Dustin Byfuglien?

And then the camera zeroed in on the combatants and . . . those aren't heavyweights . . . wait a minute, that's Kris Versteeg, one of the Hawks' smallest players! He barely has more than a dozen penalty minutes this year!

At least he found a guy to scrap with, Detroit's Patrick Eaves, who resides in his weight class. And they made an entertaining, evenly-matched go of it with both landing solid shots before the linesmen intervened.

As it turned out, the fight didn't blunt the momentum the Red Wings gained when Lidstrom lit the lamp. They played better in the second period and eventually pulled even in the third. But that was okay because even with the Hawks leading the league in points and inspiring expectations of victory every time out, I'll take the point (gained when the teams ended regulation tied 3-3) on the road every time.

Of course, that doesn't mean I'm not rooting for another point thanks to an overtime goal or a shootout victory. And sure enough, the Blackhawks were good for that again as well when goalie Antti Niemi's save on the Wings' fourth shootout attempt and Patrick Sharp's ensuing goal gave his team the win. The Hawks' 72 points puts them two ahead of fellow Western Conference colossus San Jose and an amazing 16 up on Detroit, which if the season ended today would not make the playoffs.

Bootown
Hey Red Wings fans, stop with the booing of Marian Hossa already (the usually sharp denizens of Hockeytown expressed their displeasure with the Hawks winger whenever he touched the puck from start to finish in his second trip to town this season). It wasn't like the star forward who scored 40 goals for Detroit last year before signing with the Hawks as a free agent during the off-season was a player who had grown up in the Red Wing organization.

You guys were lucky to have him for a year after Hossa turned down more money elsewhere to sign with the Red Wings the off-season before. By all accounts Hossa's previous team, the Penguins (who lost to the Red Wings in the 2008 Stanley Cup final) offered Hossa a bigger contract to stick around. And other teams did so as well. But Hossa believed he had a better chance to win the Cup with the Red Wings and signed with them for a discount and for only one year (it didn't work out so well - Hossa's new team ended up losing to his old one in 2009 - let's try not to think about potential implications for a Hawk Stanley Cup bid later this year).

Surely Detroit fans weren't surprised when Hossa moved on again later that year, this time cashing in on an extended contract with the Hawks? So knock off the booing already.

Cubs Town
About 15,000 fans attended the Cubs Convention at the Hilton over the weekend.

15,000!

Now me, I'm not that excited about the beginning of the Marlon Byrd Era on the North Side. But I'll try not to open up all the clouds on the off-season optimism parade.

And I must say I don't put much store in one reason for many people's pessimism - the uncertain condition of Ted Lilly's shoulder. Lilly has been a rock for the Cubs the last few years, no doubt about that. But at the end of last season, they traded for a guy who can be just the sort of steadying left-handed presence Lilly has been. That would be Tom Gorzelanny, who returned to form last year after an injury-plagued 2008 campaign.

The guy the Cubs grabbed from Pittsburgh last summer ended up 7-3 with a 5.55 ERA. The latter number wasn't terribly impressive but it was inflated by a couple bad outings. Otherwise he was very good. And Gorzelanny has shown before that he can get it done over the long haul. Remember that in 2007, he went 14-10 with a 3.88 ERA.

So after Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster and almost rookie-of-the-year Randy Wells in the rotation, Gorzelanny is solid at the four spot. The guy the Cubs got for Milton Bradley, Carlos Silva, is a possibility for No. 5 but hopefully this is an opportunity that prime prospect Jeff Samardzija will grab and run with.

And heck, Lilly should be back by the end of the month? Right? Sure he will.

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Coach Coffman rounds up the sports weekend in this space every Monday. He welcomes your comments.

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