Jason Williams, who broke his toe in overtime of Sunday's shootout victory over the Ottawa Senators, was in the lineup Tuesday night, which on a one-game basis illustrated the kind of thorny issues the Blackhawks face at center.
Thinking Williams would be unable to play against the Los Angeles Kings at the United Center, the Hawks recalled Dave Bolland from Norfolk as a contingency.
It was a chance for Bolland to give a sneak preview of next training camp and build on February, when he was named player of the month in the American Hockey League.
But with Williams available, Bolland was ineligible to play in the Hawks' 3-0 victory.
The Hawks extended their lead to five points over Los Angeles at the bottom of the Western Conference, and the victory marked their first back-to-back victories since Feb. 6-7.
The shutout was the first as a Hawk for Nikolai Khabibulin, who made 26 saves but wasn't tested much after the first two periods. Khabibulin's last shutout had come March 1, 2004, against Colorado while he was with the Tampa Bay Lightning, a span of 110 games.
The Hawks got on the board with their first shot on goal when Rene Bourque's shot from the left faceoff circle somehow got between Sean Burke's pads 22 seconds into the game. After that, though, the Kings had the better of the play, and only the goaltending of Khabibulin kept the Hawks ahead in a period in which they were outshot 11-5.
Two second-period goals from Patrick Sharp, his first multiple-goal game of the season and first since Nov. 10, 2005, gave the Hawks a 3-0 lead after two. It pretty much ended all suspense except whether Khabibulin would get the shutout.
Tuesday might not be the first time Bolland finds himself at the back of the line. After he was drafted in the second round in 2004 along with Michael Blunden, the Hawks said repeatedly that once Bolland and Blunden were in Chicago, the fortunes of the franchise would start to turn.
Then the two went to Norfolk to begin their pro careers, the Hawks drafted Jack Skille and Jonathan Toews in successive years, and those two became the ones who would help turn around the franchise whenever they get to Chicago.
Coach Denis Savard said Williams, acquired from Detroit last week, is a better fit at center for the Hawks, and he's signed for next season at $1.6 million. The Hawks also have Sharp signed for next season and hope to have Toews come straight from college to the NHL and either re-sign Michal Handzus or another free agent this summer.
Bolland, 20, has 35 points in 49 games in his first pro season after getting off to a slow start.
"He figured out he has to play with some grit," Savard said of Bolland's turnaround. "He was relying on his skill."
Whatever decisions Toews and Handzus make this summer will determine what the Hawks doand maybe give Bolland a better indication of where he fits in.
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