The Chicago Blackhawks downed the Colorado Avalanche 2-1 tonight, getting 28 saves from a healthy Nikolai Khabibulin and the game-winning goal from another one of last year’s overpaid free agent signings, defenseman Adrian Aucoin. Recent acquisition Peter Bondra, seen below bracing his teeth for an impending Jose Theodore cup check, failed to score his 500th goal, depriving Blackhawks fans of a milestone none of their homegrown players is likely to meet within the next decade.

Floating hands!

The game did, however, improve the Blackhawks’ record under new coach Denis Savard to 7-1-3, suggesting that the team may have finally found a replacement for fan favorite Alpo Suhonen. The Blackhawks are now within two points of the bottom rung of the crowded Western Conference playoff tree, a nearly inconceivably feat considering last year’s 26-43-13 record, but beating out Colorado, Minnesota, and Vancouver might be difficult for a team so dependent upon the fickle health of Khabibulin and Martin Havlat. (First-line center Michal Handzus is already out for the season.) Enjoy this temporary rush of near viability while you can, Blackhawks fan, because if Bill Wirtz has his way, he will undoubtedly trade off the solid core of young forwards and defensemen (Seabrook, Vrbata, Ruutu now, Barker, Toews, Skille in the future) in baffling attempts to appeal to the team’s withered fan base. GM Dale Tallon may have denied Seabrook trade rumors (his idiot man-child brother Dick was unavailable for comment), but I’ll need at least a full season of glorious mediocrity before believing that the worst franchise in professional sports has turned the corner from astounding failure.