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Leighton lights-out, but it's not enough
Michael Leighton "deserved a better fate," in the opinion of Blackhawks coach Brian Sutter.
Leighton stopped 46 shots, but the rookie goaltender's destiny was to lose to the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 Wednesday night in the United Center on Eric Cole's goal with 4 minutes 22 seconds remaining.
Carolina never led until Cole connected on a shot from the right circle after Rod Brind'Amour passed him the puck from along the boards after the Hawks turned it over.
"Ultimately, you're always judged as players and as a team on how you play on your end of the rink," Sutter said. "We gave up a goal at the end of the first period, we gave up a goal at the end of the second period and we were very careless on their third goal."
Although the Hawks were outshot 34-18 in the first two periods, they almost were able to go into the final period holding the lead. Instead, the teams were locked in a 2-2 tie after Brind'Amour, camped in front of Leighton, deflected Sean Hill's shot into the net with 3.2 seconds to play in the period.
It was the same story in the first period when Craig Adams sent a shot from the slot whizzing over Leighton's shoulder to forge a 1-1 tie 32 seconds before intermission.
The Hawks' Tumo Ruutu opened the scoring less than two minutes earlier when he backhanded the puck across the goal line from the left post after goalie Arturs Irbe botched an attempt to play the puck.
That was a power-play goal and so was the Hawks' second goal, scored by Mark Bell on a rebound of a Jim Vandermeer shot.
While the Hawks converted two of their three power-play opportunities, the Hurricanes failed to convert any of their five opportunities.
In contrast to Leighton, Irbe had a quiet night. He faced 23 shots and only five of them were launched in the third period.
Bits: Early in the season, the Hawks had one of the worst power plays in the league, but recently it has become one of the best. Wednesday's two power-play goals gave the Hawks 14 in the last 10 games. During this span they have had a power-play goal in every game but one.
Irbe, who was one of the key components when Carolina went to the 2002 Stanley Cup finals, played his fifth game of the season. The 37-year-old Latvian was recalled from Johnstown on Feb. 17 with a 10-3-1 record, a 2.13 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage to show for his efforts in the East Coast Hockey League.
Hawks defenseman Steve Poapst was in the starting lineup after missing 29 games because of a concussion. Paired with Deron Quint, Poapst worked 31 shifts and spent 16 minutes 16 seconds on the ice. He was on for the first and third Carolina goals. "I had only two practices to get ready and at first the game seemed really quick," Poapst said. "I felt better as the game went on."
Carolina is 5-3-1-1 in its last 10 games; the Hawks are 1-6-2-1.