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Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Winning solves a lot of problems

By Melissa Isaacson
ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- Never again, or at least not this season, will the Chicago Blackhawks or their fans underestimate the simple and indisputable value of victory, regardless of the points attached.

The team won its fourth straight game on Tuesday night, which only eight days ago would have appeared inconceivable. Let's face it, eight days ago, even one win was starting to look that way, much less against their old rivals, the NHL-leading Detroit Red Wings.

That each team was missing its star center -- Jonathan Toews and Pavel Datsyuk both sat out with injuries -- may have erased some of the luster going in. But much like the Chicago Bulls prevailing without Derrick Rose, the Hawks' 2-1 victory minus their captain can do nothing but bolster the confidence of a team that needs every bit of it moving forward.

"I think the message we were preaching during the losing streak was that we need to figure things out and we're going to be better for it," said Patrick Sharp. "I think you can see now that the overall team game is stronger and it has resulted in some wins."

Corey Crawford
Corey Crawford's win over the Red Wings Tuesday was his fourth straight.
The victory, which snapped the Red Wings' six-game winning streak, was significant in so many ways for the Hawks, not the least of which was goalie Corey Crawford's 31 saves, the third game in a row he has allowed less than two goals.

While it still may be too early to say he is now past his prior inconsistency, once again Crawford and his teammates will take it.

"That was another good game for us to play where we're down for most of it again and then we just keep playing our game and try not to do too much to get back," Crawford said. "We were playing a simple game, making the plays we should . . . and that's the way we have to continue to play."

Anyone who'd confuse simple for unimpressive, however, probably wisely avoided Hawks' games during their recent road trip. It is no coincidence that they have also exhibited a renewed energy along with better form over the last four games.

After looking a bit ragged early on without Toews, who is day-to-day with an upper-body injury that coach Joel Quenneville said was not related to his injured left hand, the Hawks pulled themselves together.

While extending their power-play scoreless streak to 32 with two more failed opportunities in the first period and one in the second, the Hawks at least had their chances against Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard, who had 27 saves in a superb first game back since fracturing his right index finger on Feb. 2.

They have looked considerably better against the power play as well after killing off just 20 of 27 attempts during the losing streak. After surrendering a first-period goal to the Wings' Valtteri Filppula with just seconds remaining on the power play -- a tripping penalty called on Marcus Kruger 34 seconds into the game -- the Hawks clamped down impressively in killing Detroit's next two attempts.

Offensively, they did just enough, a recurring theme against these Red Wings, whom they defeated 3-2 at the United Center on Dec. 30 but also lost to twice by that same score -- in overtime in Chicago on Jan. 8 and in Detroit on Jan. 14.

Hawks winger Jimmy Hayes tied the game at one in the second, tapping in a loose puck in the crease. The Hawks had several other scoring chances in the period, failing on breakaways by Michael Frolik, Dave Bolland and Patrick Kane, and on a 2-on-1 by Sharp before going ahead for good in the third on a goal by Kruger off his own rebound.

Still, no one should confuse this victory or even this heady winning streak with a definitive sign that the Blackhawks are ready to make a run for the Cup this year, or even the playoffs for that matter.

While the Red Wings on Tuesday afternoon completed a trade and beat the Hawks to a serviceable defenseman in Kyle Quincey, Chicago can be fairly second-guessed for their latest move, acquiring 36-year-old forward Brendan Morrison from Calgary in late January.

Going into Tuesday night, Morrison, traded in exchange for Rockford's Brian Connelly, a 25-year-old All-Star defenseman, had been a healthy scratch for the last four games. Against Detroit, Morrison was penalized once for slashing in the second period (a penalty killed by the Hawks), had a giveaway and went 50 percent on six faceoffs.

While the Hawks hoped Morrison would become their second-line center, he will likely be back on the bench when Toews returns, the trade verging on bust.

Hawks general manager Stan Bowman still has six days, until the NHL trade deadline, to give fans a reason why they should consider their team a serious contender. But difficult as it may be to muster up too much optimism, neither is it fair to judge him before then.

After the last few weeks, it's satisfying enough just to beat Detroit, Datsyuk or no Datsyuk.

As Sharp put it when talking about the Hawks' continuing power-play troubles, "We're winning games ... we really don't care."

Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.