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Thursday, January 7, 2010
With way Hawks are playing, you can't turn away


As I watch the Chicago Blackhawks right now, I can't help but think back to the 1987 documentary, "The Boys on the Bus."

For you kids too young to remember, it was a timeless behind-the-scenes look at the 1986-87 Edmonton Oilers, the carefree bunch of young stars led by Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier that trotted through the NHL as if they were the Beatles invading America.

The Oilers of the '80s not only won a bunch of hockey games and Stanley Cups but did it with pizzazz. They played the kind of hockey that left you numb with excitement.

I'm not ready to crown these Blackhawks yet, they have to earn that right; but just the way they're playing the game right now, you're nuts if you ever change the channel. I've already booked my ticket to Chicago for the playoffs, wanting a first-row ticket again this season after spending two rounds with them last spring.

The point is, these guys not only are first in the NHL at 31-10-3 for 65 points but they're also doing it with style. They're coming at the opposition from every direction. On Thursday night, the Bruins went up 2-0 in Beantown, but then watched (in awe?) as the Hawks scored five answered goals for a 5-2 win.

Make it five wins in a row for the Hawks and eight of their past 10. Does this ever get boring?

"It's been a lot of fun," Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith told ESPN.com over the phone after Thursday night's game. "We have so many skilled players on our team. Our forwards hang on to the puck and make good plays. It's just fun to be part of this team right now the way things are going."

Keith is no small part of that fun factor. The smooth-skating defenseman had two goals and an assist Thursday to give him a whopping 40 points (8-32) on the season, just one behind offensive machine Mike Green of the Washington Capitals for the NHL lead among defensemen.

Throw in a plus-17 rating and the fourth-highest average ice time in the NHL, and you have yourself a Norris Trophy-caliber season. Keith, 26, has heard the Norris Trophy talk.

"It's pretty flattering," Keith said. "There's so many great defensemen in the league. It's fun just to be part of that and be mentioned among those guys. But it's only halfway through the season. There's lots of games to be played yet."

Keith caught Steve Yzerman's eye a long time ago, and it was no surprise when the Team Canada executive director made the Hawks star part of his Olympic blue-line corps last week.

"It's been pretty exciting, definitely an honor," Keith said. "My family is excited, as well. The Olympics are in my home province of British Columbia. That in itself is pretty special. As time keeps ticking away and we get closer to the Olympics, it'll become a lot more on the minds of everyone. But right now, there's still quite a few games before then."

Until then, the Hawks just want to keep mowing down the rest of the league. They pounded the Devils 5-1 last week, and it seemed like men playing against boys Thursday night in Boston. But Keith said not to read too much into those two games.

"Sometimes you catch a team like Boston tonight where they're missing a couple of players, they lose Marc Savard in the first period," said Keith. "When we played New Jersey, we caught them on back-to-back games. I think that plays into it a little bit. I'm not trying to take anything away from our team; we're rolling pretty good right now. I definitely think we have what it takes. But at the same time, we realize there are a lot of good teams in this league."