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SportsMonday: Hawks Our Only Hope

In a world where the Cubs are tanking a third season in a row but are still projected to still draw well over 2 million fans, a world with no Derrick Rose but with Adam Dunn, a world where the Bears defense is historically bad, at least Chicago sports fans have the Blackhawks.

They enter this week with 76 total points and sit atop the Central Division. The Anaheim Ducks (83) have pulled away a bit in the Western Conference overall, but when the Hawks last faced them a little less than two weeks ago, they controlled the game on the way to a 4-2 victory.

Wait a minute, I'm receiving an update. What's that, the Hawks have lost three in a row? They are hitting the road for a seven-game ice show road trip off the heels of one of their worst losses of the season, a 3-1 setback against the Winnipeg Jets at the UC last night?

Hoo boy.

Wait, the Jets?I thought they were long gone? They took Bobby Hull away from us way back when (1972) and the bad karma eventually killed them, didn't it?

It turns out the Jets went back into business three years ago. The Thrashers, who brought hockey back to Atlanta after the demise of the Flames, who moved to Calgary, failed and the team was sold and moved north, to the frigid Alberta metropolis where they care slightly more about hockey than they do in Georgia.

And playing the Jets is always a trip because before they left Atlanta, they picked up a couple key contributors from the Hawks' 2010 Stanley Cup winners. And then this past offseason, they grabbed a solid contributor from the 2013 model. And all those guys are going strong.

In fact, it was good old Andrew Ladd who scored the third-period game-winner for the Jets last night. He and fellow former Blackhawk Dustin Byfuglien (I haven't missed trying to spell that name) have been with the franchise the last three years and were joined by Michael Frolik this year.

But it was another familiar name who had the best night last night. The NHL's only Cuban-American, Al Montoya, was between the pipes and he saved 34 of 35 shots. Montoya, who spent his childhood in Glenview and played a season for the Loyola Gold hockey club, is actually the Jets' back-up goalie and he had not played well his previous two games before sitting out the last few weeks.

Montoya then gave up a brutal goal on just the second shot on net he faced last night - Brandon Bollig's medium-speed wrap-aroundthat went off the shaft of Montoya's stick and his right pad before sliding into the goal.

But then Montoya rallied - he ended up winning the game's No. 1 star - with the Hawks helping on a whole bunch of those plays where play-by-play man Pat Foley yells "What a save!" and you look at the replay and the shot went right into the goalie's mid-section.

So the Jets were still in it heading into the third period despite being outshot 22-2 through the game's first 33 minutes.

And that's about enough about game No. 54 on the Hawks' marathon schedule. They are in the midst of a rough patch no doubt, but they are still in good shape overall. In the division, the Blues remain a major concern. They have 75 points but have played three fewer games than the local squad.

In the conference, the Hawks are still one of only four teams with more than 70 points. In other words, they have built themselves a bit of a cushion. The goal this year has always been finishing in the top four in the West. Then you have home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs and go from there.

But if they struggle on the road the next few weeks . . .

Fortunately, that has just about never happened with Joel Quenneville at the helm. The Hawks kick off the western swing (known as the "Hey, the Hawks are actually on TV again! . . . but bedtime is in a half-hour" portion of the schedule from my childhood) tomorrow night in Calgary to face the other former Atlanta team at 8:30 p.m.


Jim "Coach" Coffman is our man on Mondays. He welcomes your comments.

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Posted on Nov 26, 2021