If the Blackhawks are going to hang around with the other Western Conference playoff contenders, they better get their power play sorted out.
If not, they likely will spend the rest of the season doing the .500 waltzone step forward, one step back, even.
The Hawks slipped back to the break-even mark Wednesday night with a 2-1 loss to the Nashville Predators before an announced crowd of 10,201 at the United Center.
The loss was the first this season to the Central Division-leading Predators in four games and came on Paul Kariya's two third-period goals.
Kariya's game-winner, at 12 minutes 58 seconds of the period, came on Nashville's fifth and final power play of the night.
Twice the Hawks had possession and failed to clear their end before Kariya picked a spot above Nikolai Khabibulin's right shoulder for his ninth goal of the season.
While the Predators salvaged something with their power play, the Hawks didn't, despite having seven, including a two-man advantage for 44 seconds in the second period and one in the final 2:30 of the game.
After struggling mightily on the power play since Denis Savard took over as head coach, the Hawks had power-play goals in their last two games and four in their last four.
After Martin Havlat gave the Hawks the lead late in the first period with his 12th of the season, they had four power-play chances to grab a two-goal cushionincluding the two-man opportunitybefore Kariya's goal on a breakaway tied it in the third.
"We had chances to get up 2-0," Savard said. "We need to shoot a little more."
The Hawks were credited with seven shots on goal for their seven power plays, but six came on the two consecutive power plays early in the second period.
They didn't have any shots on the two in the first period and only one on the two in the third.
"In the third period I thought we gave the game away," said Khabibulin, who suffered only his second loss in regulation in his last 11 starts.
"We can't do that in our own building."
Both goal-scorersHavlat for the Hawks and Kariya for Nashvillehave feasted against each other's team.
Kariya has 24 goals and 52 points in 49 lifetime games against the Hawks, while Havlat has four goals and seven points in three games against Nashville this season and five and 10 in eight career games against the Predators.
Wednesday night, however, one superstar was able to do a little more than the other.
"It's a game we should have had, no question," Savard said. "It's a tough one to swallow."
Tony Salmelainen may be wishing Trent Yawney still were the head coach. Salmelainen, whom general manager Dale Tallon has said was the second-best player in Europe last season behind super rookie Evgeni Malkin, was scratched Wednesday for the third time in the last four games. In the last three games he has played, Salmelainen hasn't played more than 6:26 in any of them, including just 4:51 Dec. 12 in St. Louis. Salmelainen has one assist in his last six games. Center Michael Holmqvist also was scratched as the Hawks dressed seven defensemen. The Hawks are 2 of 18 on the power play in the first four games of their season series against Nashville. That gives them twice as many power-play goals as they had all last season against the Predators (1 of 51)
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