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Hawks' Hilbert makes crowd happy
The sellout crowd of 20,541 at the United Center on Friday nightprimarily to see Pittsburgh rookie phenom Sidney Crosbywas reminiscent of crowds that used to flock to see Michael Jordan when the Bulls were on the road.
They wanted to see Jordan score 50 pointsand ultimately to lose the game.
Most of those on hand for just the third sellout this season and the first not involving Detroit, were willing for Crosby to dazzle them as long as the Blackhawks came away with their first home victory since Dec. 16.
The Hawks obliged with a 4-1 win that snapped an eight-game home losing streak. Adam Munro won his second straight start and may have staked a claim to the backup goalie job when starter Nikolai Khabibulin returns from his groin injury.
Crosby assisted on the Penguins' first goal to break a two-game scoring drought, but he wasn't as noticeable as Washington rookie Alexander Ovechkin was against the Blackhawks on Tuesday.
A lot of the moves Hawks general manager Dale Tallon made in the last two off-seasons haven't worked out as he had hoped, but a couple of midseason pickups paid off Friday.
Since coming over from the Boston Bruins organization, Andy Hilbert has had a hard time finding a permanent spot in the Hawks' lineup, sitting out eight of the 21 games he has been with the club, including five in a row recently.
At this point in his still young NHL career, Hilbert is a pretty one-dimensional player. His talents lean heavily toward the offensive side, which isn't necessarily a bad thing for the offensively challenged Hawks.
Friday, Hilbert had his first two-goal game in the NHL, with both coming on nifty backhanders. Add his goal Thursday against Philadelphia and Hilbert has three in his last two games and five in 13. That pace projects to 31 over 82 games.
Radim Vrbata, acquired from Carolina on Dec. 30, has made an impact quicker.
After collecting just an assist in his first four games with the Hawks, Vrbata now has three goals in his last three games after his power-play goal Friday closed out a three-goal first period.
With Tuomo Ruutu out, Vrbata has established himself already as the Hawks' most skilled forward and a legitimate top-six at the position.
Assuming Ruutu can stay healthy and if Hilbert can score enough to overlook his other deficiencies, perhaps the Hawks have half of their top six forwards set for next season.
Friday, the Hawks' power play was tweaked a bit with Mark Bell manning the right point. Bell picked up an assist on Vrbata's goal and nearly had another when Martin Lapointe knocked in a rebound of a Bell shot. The goal was waved off, though, when the play was blown dead after Bell's shot knocked the mask off Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
Lapointe and Bell did combine for a second power-play goal in the third period when Lapointe hammered a rebound from a Bell shot for his 10th of the season.