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Blackhawks’ 3-2 OT loss another sign talent gap is closing

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Updated: January 14, 2014 11:12PM

Up in the press box dangling high above the ice in Montreal’s Bell Centre, a Canadiens official and a writer separately spoke about how the team reminds them of the Blackhawks in, say, 2008 or 2009. Over rubbery chicken tenders on Long Island, a couple of staffers mused that the Islanders look an awful lot like that the Hawks did just before they burst onto the scene as an NHL powerhouse.

All around the league, there are young, talented teams built through the draft, built on skill, built on speed, thinking — at the very least, hoping — they can do what the Hawks have done after years of disappointment. But perhaps no team is adhering to the Hawks’ model as closely as the Colorado Avalanche, right down to their offensive style of play in the increasingly defensive Western Conference.

“I think a great ‘big brother’ team for us to look at is the Chicago Blackhawks, with the way they play,” said Matt Duchene, two days shy of his 23rd birthday and one of the Avalanche’s many young stars.

And when will the Avalanche feel they’re sibling rivalry has become a real one?

“You’ve got to catch up to them first,” Duchene said.

The Avs certainly aren’t there yet. But Tyson Barrie’s power-play goal in overtime gave Colorado a 3-2 victory over the Hawks on Tuesday night at the United Center, another sign that the gap between the Hawks and everybody else isn’t nearly as big as it was last season.

And with the league-leading Anaheim Ducks up next on Friday, and defending Eastern Conference champion Boston in town on Sunday, the Hawks will continue to get a good look at some of their fellow Stanley Cup contenders.

“We’re in these tight games, and you’ve got to find a way to win and you’ve got to overcome and find that confidence,” said Jonathan Toews, whose hooking penalty in overtime led to Barrie’s game-winner, which dropped the Hawks’ OT record to 4-11 (including shootouts). “Find that feeling you get when you’re getting the bounces, where you feel it’s going to go your way. Hasn’t been that way lately.”

Indeed, this was a particularly frustrating game for the Hawks, who had a whopping 88 shot attempts to Colorado’s 37 in the game (48-26 on goal), and with the Avs down two skaters because of injuries. In fact, the Hawks utterly dominated play except for a 66-second span in the first period in which they gave up a fluky Barrie goal (that hit two Hawks and went through the legs of two others), committed a penalty, gave up a Ryan O’Reilly power-play goal, then committed another penalty.

Johnny Oduya’s deflection of a Brandon Saad shot in the second and Andrew Shaw’s rebound of a Saad shot in the third secured a point for the Hawks, but it easily could have been a blowout victory had they not shot wide on so many chances, not squandered five power plays, and not run into a sensational 46-save performance by Semyon Varlamov.

“There were a couple times we talked about shooting a bit quicker, but really, how can you be too mad?” Kris Versteeg said. “Sometimes goalies are going to have great nights, and tonight was one of those nights.”

On the bright side, the new-look second line of Saad, Shaw and Patrick Kane was very good for the second straight game. On the not-so-bright side, the struggling Bryan Bickell was benched for all but one shift of the third period and overtime for the second time in nine days.

“Things haven’t gone very well for him,” Joel Quenneville said. “Trying to find something encouraging.”

The postseason is a long way off, of course, but with the divisional playoff format, it’s not hard to envision these two teams meeting in the first round. Given the Avs’ surge this season as they continue to build themselves in the Hawks’ image, and their tendency to give the Hawks trouble, it might not be the easiest matchup. But considering the bruising style of St. Louis and Los Angeles, among others, it might be one of the most entertaining.

“I’d like to see more teams play like them,” Duchene said of the Hawks. “There are still a lot of teams that really trap it up and play really playoff-style hockey in October. … They want to dull the game down. It makes the West that much harder. That’s why you see such a logjam every year. Teams play for overtime and those three-point games. I think every team should look at Chicago and the way they play. They take 60 minutes and they go for the win, they go for the throat. That’s the way we want to play.”


Twitter: @marklazerus

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