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Blackhawks must fulfill Eastern obligations

Chicago Blackhawks v CarolinHurricanes

Chicago Blackhawks v Carolina Hurricanes

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Updated: October 15, 2013 9:29PM

RALEIGH, N.C. — It has been a week since the St. Louis Blues turned an overaggressive Blackhawks attack into a three-on-one rush the other way and a last-minute, game-winning goal.

And coach Joel Quenneville is still stewing.

“Still got that in the back of my mind, that ending in St. Louis,” Quenneville said before the game Tuesday against the Hurricanes. “I’m not happy about that game.”

The fact that the late lapse in St. Louis still is gnawing at Quenneville underscores the difference between divisional games and interconference games. With the new divisional playoff format looming, games within the Central Division are enormously important, particularly against the Blues, perhaps the biggest threat to a Hawks repeat. The game against the Hurricanes was the third the Hawks played since the Blues game, but all three were against Eastern Conference opponents.

And with the Blues coming to the United Center on Thursday for a rematch, it can be tough to focus on the less significant games in between.

“Sometimes you’re more excited if you’re looking at a game, like maybe St. Louis on Thursday, and sometimes you can have a tendency to overlook [an Eastern Conference] opponent, so we’ve got to make sure we don’t do that,” Patrick Kane said. “Every point is crucial throughout the season. . . . Sometimes these games are fun, too. You don’t see them a lot, so there’s a lot of action, up-and-down pace, chances both ways. As an offensive guy, you like that.”

That novelty factor helps add some juice and unpredictability to these games. Everyone knows what a Hawks-Blues game is going to look like. Nobody’s quite sure what a Hawks-Hurricanes, Hawks-Maple Leafs or Hawks-Rangers game is going to look like.

Because all games were kept within the conferences during the lockout-shortened season, the Hawks last visited Raleigh on Oct.  28, 2011. Kane said the Eastern Conference is more skill-oriented with more end-to-end action, while the West is more physical and defensive-minded.

One thing appears clear in the early going — the West is best, entering action Tuesday with a 28-7-3 mark against the East. The Hawks are 4-0-1 against the East after beating the Hurricanes. And while those points don’t come with the added bonus of taking points away from a division rival, they still add up.

“They’re all important; you’ve got to bring meaning to every game,” Quenneville said. “The guys are pretty professional about how they approach things. . . . Once you get out there, you’re just playing hockey.”


Twitter: @marklazerus

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