Blackhawks blank Florida Panthers, 4-0

SUNRISE, Fla. — Florida isn't a usual stop for the Blackhawks, but it's quite a bit more familiar to them than the venue the next time they likely will take on the Panthers.

Early Thursday, the NHL announced the Hawks and Panthers would kick off the 2009-10 regular season in Helsinki, Finland. A few hours later the teams took the ice at BankAtlantic Center to give a preview of the games to be played Oct. 2 and 3.

If the Hawks and Panthers play similarly in October, the European fans will witness some solid goaltending.

Cristobal Huet made 31 saves to help lift the Blackhawks to a 4-0 victory over the Panthers and counterpart Tomas Vokoun. The victory was the Hawks' third consecutive overall and second straight on this three-game trip. They have won seven of their last 10 games away from home to improve their road record to 18-11-3.

Providing the offense in Huet's third shutout of the season and 20th of his career was Ben Eager, who had two goals, and Andrew Ladd and Jonathan Toews with one apiece. Martin Havlat and James Wisniewski each added two assists.

Huet, who started his fourth consecutive game because of the injury to Nikolai Khabibulin, robbed David Booth in the first and second periods and preserved the shutout with a big stop of Nathan Horton midway through the third.

"We played almost a perfect game," said Huet, who improved to 6-2-1 lifetime against the Panthers. "We didn't take too many penalties (three), and when we had to we had some great penalty killing. We finished them when we had a chance at the end of the game."

The Hawks snapped a four-game winless skid against the Panthers, beating them for the first time since Oct. 17, 2002, and the first time in Florida since Jan. 16, 2002.

Ladd got the Hawks on the board early in the first when he stuffed his 10th goal of the season past Vokoun, who finished with 38 saves. Eager made it 2-0 when he picked up a loose puck near the bottom of the right circle and fired in a turnaround shot midway through the third.

"We played the way we wanted to," Ladd said. "We kept it simple and got pucks to the net. We controlled their rush, and that's what you want to do on the road."

With the teams skating four-on-four due to penalties, Panthers coach Peter DeBoer pulled Vokoun with four minutes left — and it backfired almost immediately.

Toews scooped up a loose puck near center ice and fired it into the Florida goal for his 21st of the season. Eager then added his 10th of the season with a shot from the left circle in the final minute.

Barring a Stanley Cup run by both teams, they won't meet again until Helsinki.

"It's pretty cool we'll be in featured games like that," Toews said. "We'll enjoy getting a taste of what it's like to play a weekend in Europe."

ckuc@tribune.com

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