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SportsMonday: Hawks Hot As An Avalanche

The Hawks are as hot as hot can be. It's a wonder the ice at the United Center hasn't . . . oh, let's not do that. How about something along the lines of . . . they are as hot as a team in any sport can be after notching their 17th victory in their last 20 games Sunday over the Avalanche 6-3.

In so doing, the Hawks became the first team in the Western Conference to officially clinch a playoff spot. And they moved to seven points ahead of the suddenly ice cold - sorry - Minnesota Wild in the Central Division race, 99-92.

The Wild is also second in the race for overall home ice advantage in the conference. Next up is the race for overall home-ice advantage in the NHL, and there there is still work to be done. The Washington Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets have both scored 100 atop the Eastern Conference.

At least we can have some fun with "Avalanche," can't we? Let's make it a fill in the blanks: the Hawks scored an . . . of goals in the second half of the third period, rallying from a 3-1 deficit by first scoring three goals in 34 seconds and then adding on two more in the final 10 minutes.

The Hawks have piled up a significant amount of goals this season but this was the first time they've scored five in a period, let alone in less than half a half period.

I have to figure the guys who were covering the game had their game lead all set as the teams skated through the motions of what looked like it would end up being a disappointing but far from crushing setback as the first half of the third period played out.

"It turns out the Hawks can't quite win them all . . . " they might have written, or "No matter how good the Hawks are, they won't beat even the worst of NHL teams if they don't play better then they did Sunday."

Then . . . look out skiers! The massive ridge of snow up the mountain just gave way! Scott Darling earned the win between the pipes despite a mediocre performance. He did manage a few big saves to not let the game get totally out of hand but Corey Crawford doesn't have anything to worry about as far as the lead goaltending job goes.

At the other end, the Hawks have so far weathered the storm and then some in the absence of Artem Anisimov, the center who is out of the lineup until at least the last week of the regular season with what appears to be a high ankle sprain. They have received a big boost from a rookie, John Hayden, who went from playing his fourth season for Yale earlier this year to scoring goals, making assists and playing physical hockey between Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

I'll bet he is feeling as though his life has worked out about as well as he could have hoped at this point. If the Hawks can keep this thing going like they are now for the next few months in pursuit of a fourth Stanley Cup since 2010, their fans will know how he feels.

Tourney Notes
There may have been some significant upsets during the second round, but the Power 5 conferences got exactly what they wanted over the weekend.

The Sweet 16 contains 15 teams from the B1G, Big 12, Pac 12, SEC, ACC and the Big East. And the Big East is an honorary Power 5 in basketball. In other words, all of the teams from the mid-major conferences have been eliminated except for one, and there is a sizable chance that the biggest and most profitable basketball programs will again take all the spots in the Final Four.

The selection committee had to know it couldn't completely screw West Coast Conference champ Gonzaga this year. Despite the team's lack of strength of schedule, which exists mostly because teams from the Power 5 won't schedule them, everyone knew the one-loss team was one of the best in the country and it was given one of the top four seeds.

Its path to the Final Four won't be easy - next round foe West Virginia is called Press Virginia because it is so good at full-court defense - but thank goodness the Zags give fans of something other than the sorry-assed status quo (if Kentucky faces North Carolina in the Final Four it is time for a boycott) something to root for.

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Jim "Coach" Coffman welcomes your comments.

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