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Hawks throttle Avalanche as team looks toward playoffs

Starting stretch on right skate

DENVER – The dog days of the NHL season came and went in a flash, and the Blackhawks find themselves in the stretch run toward the playoffs.

The Hawks played their 29th game of the lockout-shortened season when they faced off against the Avalanche on Monday night at the Pepsi Center.

They made it a good one, as they avenged one of their two regulation losses this season with a 5-2 victory over the Avalanche.

Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews each had a goal and two assists, while Jimmy Hayes, Andrew Shaw and Brent Seabrook added scores to help goaltender Ray Emery run his record to 11-0-0 this season. The Hawks exacted some revenge on an Avalanche team that snapped the Hawks' record season-opening points streak at 24 with a 6-2 pasting March 8.

Emery was strong in net for the Hawks, who improved to 24-3-2, allowing scores to Gabriel Landeskog and Milan Hejduk, but the veteran handed Colorado its fourth consecutive loss.

"It's going by fast," Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "Before we know it, it will be playoff time. We've done a great job of improving and setting goals for ourselves as a team this year, and now everyone is trying to chase us, and it's up to us to try and stay on top. We want to keep going and keep getting better."

Added defenseman Johnny Oduya: "Everybody kind of realized it when you looked at [the schedule], but then as you play. ... it just keeps rolling on. This is the best part of the year to play. For us, it's trying to get better and improving and looking forward."

The Hawks may have dodged a bullet as winger Marian Hossa headed to the dressing room with an upper-body injury after taking a big hit along the boards by the Avalanches' Ryan O'Byrne late in the first period.

The team announced that Hossa might return to the game, but as the Hawks piled up a big lead there appeared little reason for the veteran to return.

The 48-game season caused by the lockout left teams with little margin for error, and the need to maintain consistency has been key. Enter the Hawks, who haven't gone more than two games this season without posting a victory.

The rearview mirror shows the Ducks looming behind the Hawks in the Western Conference with 13 teams all within eight points of each other entering Monday night.

"You look at what's going on with the. ... intensity and meaning of these games," coach Joel Quenneville said. "Looking as the standings, it's going to be an amazing finish and we want to make sure we're taking care of our business and putting ourselves in a good spot game in and game out."

Stars of the game: Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, Blackhawks, 2 goals, 2 assists

Up next: Blackhawks at Ducks, 9 p.m. Wednesday

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