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SportsMonday: The Week The Blackhawks Wish Wasn't

Time to crank up the time machine - we have a hockey team in town that really needs to travel a week into the future.

Nothing good can happen for the Blackhawks in the next six days. Sure, they can clinch the President's Trophy (awarded to the NHL team with the most regular-season points) with one more win, but even that has a dark side.

Two more points in their final four games ensures the Hawks, who have already clinched division and conference crowns, will finish ahead of Eastern Conference leader Pittsburgh. It would be the Hawks' second President's Trophy and their first in more than two decades.

The problem is that teams that win the Trophy often don't win the Cup.

The last team to do it was the Red Wings. They piled up the most points in the league in 2007-08 and then rolled through the playoffs as well. But in the seasons since, trophy winners have been far more likely to lose in the conference quarterfinals than they have been to even make the Cup finals.

The San Jose Sharks, Washington Capitals and Vancouver Canucks suffered that fate in '09, '10 and '12. And while the Canucks managed to win a few playoff series in '11 but then went down in the finals against the Bruins. All totaled in the 26 years since the league began awarding the President's Trophy, only seven teams have won both it and the Cup.

When the Hawks earned the trophy in 1990-91, they went on to fall in the good old Norris Division semifinals to a team that doesn't even exist anymore. The Minnesota North Stars (who not long after re-located to Dallas and dropped the "North") pulled out that series in six games. The loss was especially aggravating because the North Stars had won only 27 games during the regular season against 39 losses and 14 ties.

The Hawks' regular season total of 49 pre-playoff victories didn't matter in a series in which they lost in overtime to start it off, bounced back to win the next two but then scored all of two goals in the final three games; 3-1, 6-0 and 3-1 losses. Part of it was North Star goalie Jon Casey standing on his head and part of it was that teams that were coached by maniacal Mike Keenan, as the Hawks were that year, were always prone to collapsing under the weight of the pressure he put on them.

As it stands now, the eighth spot in the conference (which will be matched up against the No. 1 Hawks) is currently the Columbus Blue Jackets. But the Red Wings are lurking. They trail Columbus by three points but have two games in hand, i.e,. they will have four more games to try to pile up points while the Blue Jackets are down to two.

Here's a reason not to despair: The Hawks haven't had to totally wear themselves down to finish with the top record in the league because it is of course a shortened season. And what a record the Hawks possess by the way - 34-5-5 going into tonight's game in Vancouver.

But now the Hawks face the age-old quandary of "Do they rest their veterans during their final four games or would doing so doing run the risk of not being at their competitive best when the post-season starts?"

Recent sports history is littered with examples of teams have have rested, including the Canucks last year as they headed into a first-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Kings. It was the Kings who triumphed in that conference quarterfinal and then all they did was go on to win the Stanley Cup.

If anyone can strike the right balance between maintaining veteran health and not losing the competitive edge, it is veteran Hawks coach Joel Quenneville. Still, I'm sure all Hawks fans will breathe a sigh of relief when next Sunday morning finally comes around. That will be when the Hawks, having wrapped up the regular season in St. Louis the night before, can finally focus on the road to the Cup.

Bulls Beat
In case you missed it, the Bulls are already in the playoffs and some might be inclined to blame maniacal Tom Thibodeau both for getting them there and for getting them there exhausted.

Or someone else.

Baseball Beat
* The Cub Factor: Fans File For Divorce.
* The White Sox Report: Sacrificing Bunts.


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

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