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The Road Leads Where It's Lead

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    NEWSLETTERS

    We've been patiently waiting, eating our vegetables and finishing our homework, all in the hopes that the Hawks will reward us with a streak of carnage and toppled foes that will vault them back into the playoff picture.

    It's a run they should be capable of and which really should have come long ago.  It's a run that is now mandatory and simply must start this week.

    The Hawks have three home games coming up where they must once again figure out how to turn the United Center back into a fortress rather than the keg party it's become for their opponents. They really won't get a better chance.

    Let's take a look:

    Wednesday vs. Minnesota: There may not be a hotter team in the league right now than the Wild. They've won five of six and eleven of their last 13 and currently hold the last playoff spot. However, they have to cool off some time.

    The last time they were here, the Hawks paddled them up and down the ice for the first 20 before once again deciding that was enough and watching idly by as the Wild steamed to a 4-2 victory.

    While they've been playing well, and there's that certain, unquantifiable feeling about this team that they add up to more than the sum of their parts, they're not a force. They're slightly short on scoring if you match them in effort, and outside of Brent Burns, this defense can be a turnover machine.

    Once you get to him, Niklas Backstrom is in the kind of form that can win games on its own, and that doesn't help.

    But nothing will get the good feelings back like beating a direct competitor at home, and this is the biggest challenge the Hawks will face for a week.

    Friday vs. Columbus: It would be silly to sit here and write about how bad I think the Jackets are as they sit only one point behind the Hawks. But they've had to gather points in nine of their past 10 games to get there, and no one believes they can keep up that pace.

    Goalie Steve Mason, who's been an overturned walrus for two seasons in net, seems to have found his game recently, which can cover up a lot of warts. But this team barely has one scoring line, and their defense is simply a mess.

    The three times the Hawks have bothered to even care against these guys, they have left them spinning in the dust. There's no reason to think that shouldn't be the case if the Hawks are as desperate as they simply have to be.

    Sunday vs. Pittsburgh: Six weeks ago, this looked like a mouth-watering occasion, matching Sidney Crosby against Jonathan Toews for the first time in their careers as two of the league's best (we still thought so then) got together.

    Then Crosby's brain started turning brown. Then Evegeni Malkin blew out his knee. Then any other Penguin with a pulse ended up on the shelf, and all of the sudden this is pretty much the Islanders showing up on Sunday afternoon.

    They're still well-coached, they certainly won't give up, and Marc-Andre Fleury is still playing well. None of their injuries came on their defensive unit, and with Kris Letang, Paul Martin, Zybnek Michalek and Brooks Orpik, they can give any offense a case of the stutters.

    But in front of that are a bunch of guys Crosby and Malkin made look a lot better than they actually are, and you wonder how they can manage three goals if you don't simply give them to them. They're 1-4 since Malkin bit it, and it's not a coincidence. Finally getting a break?