He may not be in game shape yet, but Peter Bondra still can shoot the puck.
Even being out eight months, a goal scorer is still a goal scorer as Bondraone of the most prolific snipers of his generationproved again Tuesday night.
Bondra's first goal in his Hawks debut, and No. 499 of his career, ignited a three-goal spree in a span of 2 minutes 4 seconds and lifted the Hawks to a 3-2 victory over the reeling St. Louis Blues.
The Hawks have climbed back to the .500 mark with 29 points in 29 games, the first time they have been at the break-even level since they were 4-4.
The loss was the eighth in a row for the Blues and spoiled the debut of coach Andy Murray, who replaced the fired Mike Kitchen.
Bondra's shot from the right point, off a feed from James Wisniewski, tied the game at 1-1 3:22 into the third period and came with the Hawks having their second consecutive two-man power play.
Penalties by Doug Weight, Keith Tkachuk and Jay McKeethree highly paid veteransin the first three minutes of the third period gave the Hawks three straight power plays and a two-man advantage for 1:39.
"I didn't expect that, I got a little lucky," said Bondra, who played a total of 11:54 and had three shots on goal. "I was a little nervous, but the intensity took over and I wasn't tired."
When he scores his next goal, Bondra will be the first Hawk to reach the 500 milestone since Michel Goulet in 1992.
"It's not on my mind yet," Bondra said. "There has been so much excitement that I haven't thought about any milestones."
Radim Vrbata scored his first goal in 13 games 30 seconds after Bondra to make it 2-1, and Jeff Hamilton added his eighth 1:34 later to make it 3-1.
Weight pulled the Blues to within 3-2 at 18:33 with a power-play goal.
Perhaps the biggest positives out of Tuesday is the Hawks picked up two points despite not playing well for most of the game, and they were able to find offense without relying on Martin Havlat.
Havlat had just his second game without a point this season despite firing a game-high 10 shots on goal.
Now that they have gotten to .500, the Hawks can be considered a factor in the Western Conference playoff hunt.
"It's a good feeling [to get to .500]," coach Denis Savard said. "We have to keep going."
With Vrbata back in the lineup, the addition of Bondra forced some line shuffling. Vrbata was a wing with center Patrick Sharp and Hamilton. Vrbata wore a full shield to protect the bone under the eye he injured Nov. 19 in Vancouver. Brandon Bochenski and Martin St. Pierre were scratched. With Rene Bourque due back, perhaps as early as Thursday, Bochenski and St. Pierre soon could be heading back to Norfolk. Savard said defenseman Adrian Aucoin, who has missed the last nine games with a groin injury, may be back Saturday or Sunday. Kitchen was the third coach fired from the Central Division already this season, joining Trent Yawney of the Hawks and Gerrard Gallant in Columbus. Marek Schwarz, the Blues' first-round selection in the 2004 draft, made his NHL debut in goal.
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