Didn't want to draft me, huh Kaner? Wait until we get back to Chicago...

Sure, the Blackhawks had a great time down in Raleigh rubbing elbow pads with the rich and famous. Sure, Patrick Sharp was named MVP of the All-Star Game with a goal and four (that’s right, I saw the replays, FOUR) assists. Sure, Patrick Kane tossed a did-he-just-do-that saucer pass to former mate Dustin Byfuglien that he buried so deep in the net the refs had to use repelling gear to retrieve it. Sure, Jonathan Toews did a spin-o-rama move before potting one of his own. Sure, even former Blackhawk Martin Havlat had a decent night, and every current and former Blackhawk on the ice on Sunday ended up on the scoresheet. And sure, aside from all the shenanigans in Dixie, Brian Campbell got engaged.

Hopefully our arms aren’t still sore from patting ourselves on the back, are they boys? Because vacation’s over. Enough putzing around. It’s time to go to work. Now listen up.

The Blackhawks are tied for 7th place in the Western Conference with two other teams, in such a way that if either of those teams scores one point, we’re in 9th. Further adding to the stress, all but one team in the West is within 5 points of making the playoffs, and all but the Conference leaders are within 5 points of being *out* of the playoffs. 10 points separate 11 teams.

Translation: every Western Conference opponent is a must-win game. There are 32 games left. 22 of them are Western Conference opponents. This is no bullshit now. Whoever doesn’t have their head in the game, there’s a phone call coming your way before the trade deadline.

Tonight the Blackhawks are in Columbus to take on the 13th place Blue Jackets, and we hope to see a well-rested and healthy squad suit up for the tilt. Marian Hossa’s ailment that kept him out of the Minnesota game before the All-Star break was apparently vertigo, and he indicates that he is back to 100%.

The fact that he’s back is good news: the fact that it’s vertigo is not. I have it, and it’s a nasty fucker. Vertigo is caused by a virus, and it never leaves your system. It just decides to come out and play at random, stay until it’s bored, and then taper off. The last bout of vertigo I had lasted nearly three weeks — I couldn’t drive, couldn’t walk or stand without assistance, and spent nearly half that time with my eyes closed to keep the room from spinning (and me from hurling). My escapades with this pain in the ass have gotten longer and more severe over the years. Let’s hope Mr. Hossa’s does not recur as frequently and manifest itself as severely as mine.

Rookie defenseman Nick Leddy was called up from Rockford on Monday — another $90 bus trip to save the Blackhawks fifty grand in salary cap space — and in a surprise move, Marty Turco is the announced starter. This is a bit of a puzzler: the next game isn’t until Friday, so no back-to-back considerations; both goalies have had a full week off, so both are well-rested. The only explanation that makes any sense is that Coach Joel Quenneville has decided to let Turco earn his starting job back. Or at least, a 50/50 split for the time being. This is about the time last year that Quenneville started thinking in earnest about who his playoff goaltender would be. He gave them both a shot over 20 games or so to see who performed, then gave the chosen netminder every start the last 15 games of the season to get ready for the big push. This may be what we’re seeing now.

The story in Columbus hasn’t changed: four guys providing all the offense, weak defense, and inconsistent goaltending. This is the fourth meeting of the two clubs this year, and we’ve won two so far. The last meeting was a 4 – 1 win on goals by Tomas Kopecky, Dave Bolland, and 2 from Patrick Sharp. Ironically, that game was another start for Marty Turco that caught observers off-guard. Hopefully that scenario will repeat itself.

6:00pm puck drop for tonight’s game. Comcast SportsNet has the TV rights; broadcast radio is WGN AM-720, and XM subscribers should look for channel 205.

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