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The Blackhawks, who've been infamous for their bad starts in recent years, surrendered a goal 51 seconds into their season opener Thursday night. But they rallied behind new offensive-oriented defenseman Phil Housley to seize the lead later in the first period and they clung to it for the rest of the game to score a 5-4 victory over Vancouver.
In the final two minutes goaltender Jocelyn Thibault was the game-saver, stopping shot after shot in the face of an all-out counterattack by the Canucks.
"In the past we'd have folded up the tent," said new coach Brian Sutter. "Tonight we didn't. We got a lot of gutty efforts from a lot of guys.
"We worked hard to get the lead and it turned out Jocelyn was at his best late in the game. It was exciting to watch."
Housley, picked up from Calgary in last week's waiver draft, scored the first goal for the Hawks to tie the score 1-1 at 7:31 of the opening period, then struck again to send them out front at 12:43.
The Hawks' other goals off Dan Cloutier came from Kyle Calder in the first period and Eric Daze and Steve Sullivan in the third on the power play. Michael Nylander assisted on Housley's second goal and the goals by Daze and Sullivan.
During the first two periods the Hawks controlled play and outshot Vancouver 26-15. But in the final period the Canucks came on strong, outshooting the Hawks 12-7. Markus Naslund instigated the rally with a power-play goal 47 seconds into the period and, with four minutes remaining, Daniel Sedin cut the Canucks' deficit to one goal, setting the stage for Thibault's goal-line stand.
"They were picking up momentum," said Thibault. "Some of the shots I stopped I didn't even see.
"Winning this game was huge. In the past we have been a pretty fragile squad. If we had lost we'd have been 0-1 with Calgary and Edmonton coming up [Saturday and Tuesday]. This team needs to win games like this to pick up a lot of confidence."
Housley said the Hawks' refusal to panic was the key to victory.
"We didn't panic when they got their first goal," he said. "We stuck to our game plan. We have a lot of offense. It's how well we play defensively that will determine how good we will be."
Amonte update: A source said that the Hawks are willing to extend Amonte's contract for two more years and pay him $6.2 million per year. The Hawks' captain would have the option of making it a three-year deal and having some of the $12.4 million added to the $3.4 million he is making under his current contract, which will expire after this season. The Hawks also might be willing to negotiate a four-year deal extending through the 2004-05 season.