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hawks 3, kings 1

Hawks take present, like the future

By Bob Foltman

Tribune staff reporter

9:28 PM PST, December 22, 2002

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With the two points they earned Sunday night in a 3-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings at the United Center, the Blackhawks jumped from 10th in the jam-packed Western Conference to eighth.

But as the Hawks began their three-day Christmas holiday, they had far grander visions in mind than just a spot in the conference playoffs.

The Central Division title is very much in play as the Hawks moved to within one point of second-place St. Louis and within five points of leading Detroit.

Making things even more intriguing from the Hawks' standpoint is the January schedule.

The Hawks face the Blues and the Red Wings three times each.

The Hawks put themselves in this position with one of their most complete victories of the season.

They got scoring from three lines, including two goals in the first 3 minutes 13 seconds.

A defensive corps that was missing injured Jon Klemm limited Los Angeles, which had 11 goals in its last two games, to few prime scoring chances.

And whatever good chances the Kings had were snuffed out by another steady performance by goaltender Jocelyn Thibault.

Thibault wasn't spectacular Sunday, which is what impressed Hawks coach Brian Sutter the most.

"He was darn solid," Sutter said.

"He made a whole bunch of saves in traffic that I didn't think he saw. He stopped it and handed it to the referee. That's pretty nice, and it has such a calming effect on a team."

It's also calming to take a two-goal lead before the opponents can stretch their legs.

Sergei Berezin, dangerous most of the night with five shots, , gave the Hawks a 1-0 lead just 1:22 into the game when he chased down the rebound of his own shot and jammed it past Los Angeles goalie Felix Potvin.

Less than two minutes later, it was 2-0. Kyle Calder, with three goals in his last three games, stuffed another close-in shot past Potvin.

"We wanted to make darn sure we were ready and prepared," Sutter said.

"We wanted to make sure that we were the ones establishing something."

The lead turned to three late in the second period when Eric Daze whistled a shot past Potvin for his eighth goal of the season.

Daze gave Potvin a little hesitation on the shot, which threw off Potvin's timing.

It also was unintended.

"The puck was too close to me," Daze said.

"I had to set it up again. By then [Potvin] was down."

And the Kings were out.

Eric Rasmussen cut it to 3-1 at 4:02 of the third, but the Kings didn't pose a serious threat the rest of the way.

The Hawks easily closed out their third straight victory and improved to 7-2-1 in their last 10 games.

"It takes a strong-minded team to stay focused," Sutter said.

"Weak-minded teams are up and down like a toilet seat at this time of the year."