Shakeup doesn't wake up Hawks

Tribune staff reporter

Playing perhaps their most important game of the season against the top team in the Western Conference, the Blackhawks left their All-Star goaltender and 605 career goals on the sideline.

With Theo Fleury and Sergei Berezin in the press box and Jocelyn Thibault watching on the bench, the Hawks fell 3-0 to the Dallas Stars before 16,788 Sunday at the United Center. The loss was the Hawks' third in a row and the sixth out of their last seven.

It was also their fifth loss in a row at home and ran their winless streak at the United Center to seven games.

After the game, there was a players-only meeting.

"Everyone has to look in the mirror and be better," defenseman Lyle Odelein said.

Coupled with Edmonton's 3-3 tie Sunday with Atlanta, the Hawks trail the Oilers by six points for the last playoff spot in the West.

With 20 games left in the season and the playoffs slipping away, Hawks coach Brian Sutter decided to send a message to two players whom the Hawks will need if they have any hope of reaching the postseason.

Fleury, who hasn't scored in nine games and has two goals in his last 18 games, was a healthy scratch for the first time since the 1988-89 season—his rookie season in the NHL.

Berezin is tied for the team lead in goals with 16 but hasn't scored in six games.

"We need more out of Theo," Sutter said. "We brought him here to be a difference-maker."

Sutter used the same reasoning for scratching Berezin.

"This can't keep dragging on," Sutter said. "Maybe I should have done it sooner."

As for Thibault, it was the first time this season he hasn't played a game that wasn't part of a back-to-back situation.

Steve Passmore made 17 saves, but Dallas had just five shots in the last two periods and scored twice, including their only shot in the third period.

"[Passmore] has to come in and play and win a hockey game for us," Sutter said.

Thibault still owns all but one of the Hawks' wins this season.

It's the timing of the scratches that raised some eyebrows. Captain Alex Zhamnov said he was surprised Fleury and Berezin weren't in the lineup.

Even though both have been struggling, they have a combined 25 goals and have the ability to score every time they are on the ice.

Ryan VandenBussche and Jason Strudwick, the two players in the lineup who would normally have been out, have a total of one goal and are primarily grinding, physical players who aren't counted on for offense.

Hawks general manager Mike Smith seemed surprised at the Berezin benching, saying he was a "late scratch."

But he wasn't surprised that Fleury was out of the lineup.

"I'm in agreement with what Brian did," Smith said, adding that he and Sutter discussed benching Fleury in January.

Asked whether the lineup on the ice Sunday gave the Hawks the best chance to win, Smith declined to answer directly, saying lineup questions should be directed to Sutter.

He was also asked whether he and Sutter are on the same page as the Hawks go into the homestretch of the season.

"As far as I know," he said.

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