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First, a quick women's basketball note (we will begin today's regularly scheduled Blackhawks column shortly): DePaul bowed out of the NCAA tournament with an 83-71 loss to Oregon State at a regional semifinal in Dallas on Saturday.
The Blue Demons did a good job limiting the scoring of Oregon State's powerful 6-6 center Ruth Hamblin, but she was still a force in the middle with nine rebounds and three blocked shots to go with her 13 points. And while DePaul was busy doubling Hamblin down low, Beaver guard Jamie Weisner was going off from the outside, totaling a career-high 38 points.
Every time it looked like DePaul might mount a rally, Weisner drained one of her career-high seven three-pointers to make sure her team stayed comfortably in front. The Blue Demons finished the season with 27 victories against nine defeats and are looking forward to next season, when they lose only two seniors from a talented roster led by junior guard Jessica January.
And with those three paragraphs, we have provided more comprehensive coverage of the by-far best basketball team in town's final game than any other local media outlet except DePaul's school paper. By contrast, the Los Angeles Times had a front sports page story Sunday about the UCLA women's team's Sweet 16 loss. It is more evidence that local sports news consumers need to look elsewhere than the Tribune, Sun-Times or ESPN Chicago for anything approaching comprehensive coverage, even of the local scene.
And now for the Hawks:
Big win last night (3-2 over Vancouver)! Not quite huge but still, even if the Hawks can't catch either the Blues or the Stars - and that will be tough with those teams tied atop the division with 99 points apiece with six games remaining - the Hawks at minimum want to stay ahead of the fourth-place Predators. Sunday night's victory gave the Hawks 95 points to the Preds' 91. The Predators have played 75 games to the Hawks' 76. The Stars and Blues have also played 76 games.
If the Hawks can stay in front of Nashville, they will probably travel to either Dallas or St. Louis to start the playoffs. That is far from ideal but it is better than entering the playoffs as a wild card and potentially having to start by going all the way out to LA to face the Kings or Ducks.
Perhaps the biggest hole in the Hawks' lineup all year has been at fourth defenseman. Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson have held down the top three spots but no one has stepped up to fill the skates of Johnny Oduya, who manned the blue line so well for last year's Stanley Cup champs.
Fans still rightfully question whether Trevor Van Reimsdyk can provide the absolutely critical defense that a successful playoff team needs at that spot. But he showed again last night that his ability to create offense might outweigh concerns at the other end.
He was the Hawks' No. 1 star in this one with two first assists that set up the Hawks' first two goals, which were scored by Tomas Fleischman and Teuvo Teravainen.
As for the game-winner late in the third, it was Jonathan Toews who handled the set-up. He resisted the urge to try a low percentage pass across the slot to Marian Hossa at the end of an odd-man rush and instead held the puck long enough for Andrew Ladd to enter prime scoring territory.
Toews then slipped a smooth pass back to Ladd, who fired it into the net for the game-winner.
Goalie Scott Darling back-stopped a good-enough defensive effort with 23 saves.
With the win, the Hawks clinched their eighth consecutive playoff berth. Next up is the Wild in Minnesota at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Ladd Scores Game-Winner As Blackhawks Hand Canucks 8th-Straight Loss.
Jim "Coach" Coffman welcomes your comments.