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Hawks' best game still ends in defeat
The result was actually worse than Sunday's disaster and certainly not one to begin a tough four-game trip with.
But in many respects, the Blackhawks' 4-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues was easier to digest.
The Hawks made mistakes and paid dearly for them, but they dominated play for a majority of the game and ran up against a goaltender who had his best night of the season.
"It was our best game of the year, by a lot," Hawks coach Trent Yawney said. "We have to remember where we've been and where we're going, but it was a good start."
It wasn't a good start to the evening, though, when the Blues fished a loose puck out of the corner and Dean McAmmond fired a shot from the faceoff dot past Nikolai Khabibulin just 20 seconds into the game.
Khabibulin said he wasn't screened and the shot didn't take a deflection, he was just beaten cleanly.
"It's not the kind of start you want, but it was still early and we had the whole game to play," Khabibulin said.
The Hawks then had full control of play for the next 10 minutes. St. Louis goaltender Patrick Lalime had come into the night with a goals-against average of 6.00 and a save percentage of .833, but Tuesday he looked more like a Vezina Trophy candidate turning aside quality Hawks chances.
After a pileup at center ice midway through the first, Jay McClement picked up a loose puck and had a clear lane to Khabibulin. Both Jaroslav Spacek and Tuomo Ruutu tried tying up McClement.
For just about every referee in the NHL it was a clear penalty, nothing more. But one of the referees Tuesday was the always theatrical Mick McGeough, who blew his whistle, paused for dramatic effect and emphatically pointed to center ice for the penalty shot.
McClement beat Khabibulin to the stick side for his first NHL goal to give the Blues a 2-0 lead.
"That penalty shot is the type of save I need to make to keep us in it," Khabibulin said.
Down two goals, the Hawks still had the better of things until Jassen Cullimore took an interference penalty. Just 23 seconds later, Matthew Barnaby was called for roughing to put the Hawks down two men. Scott Young banged in a rebound of his own shot 58 seconds later and the Blues were up 3-0 after 20 minutes.
St. Louis had eight shots on goal with three going in while Lalime stopped 14 Hawk shots. The Hawks played even better in the second when they outshot the Blues 11-4, but Lalime stopped Pavel Vorobiev twice from point-blank range and Brent Seabrook's shot rang off the goal post.
"Their goalie played very well," Yawney said of Lalime.
It was the kind of game the Hawks expect but have yet to get, from Khabibulin, who's save percentage is a pedestrian .847 after four games.
"I have to get better," Khabibulin said. "The worst thing to do is get frustrated."
St. Louis went up 4-0 on a Dallas Drake goal early in the third. Tyler Arnason spoiled the shutout at 12:17 of the period.
With the victory, the Blues picked up their first points of the season, the last team in the NHL to get on the board.