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Flames' faceoff wins prove fatal
Through the first 40 minutes Sunday, Flames center Wayne Primeau hadn't taken a faceoff and played just a little over 4 minutes against the Blackhawks.
In the third period, however, Primeau won all four faceoffs he took, the biggest coming at 13 minutes 46 seconds-and it may have saved the Flames' season.
Primeau beat Martin Lapointe on the draw to the right of Hawks goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, and Flames winger Matthew Lombardi sent the puck back to defenseman Roman Hamrlik, who blasted a shot past Khabibulin for the winning goal in the Flames' 3-2 victory over the Hawks before an announced crowd of 10,178 at the United Center.
The loss was the Hawks' fifth straight, the fourth time this season they have lost at least five games in a row. The victory increased the Flames' lead over the Avalanche for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference to seven points, with the Avalanche in Vancouver for a late Sunday affair.
Just before Primeau beat Lapointe, he cleanly beat Michael Holmqvist to set up a rocket from Dion Phaneuf, which hit Khabibulin in the mask.
Primeau "had about three [wins] before that and I fed Dion a couple times," Hamrlik said. "I just decided I wanted to shoot the puck a little more, and it finally went in."
For the game the Flames won 58 percent of the faceoffs. Another Flames win-to start the third period-gave the Flames possession and led to Stephane Yelle tipping a shot by Phaneuf past Khabibulin to tie the game 2-2.
Yelle beat Lapointe-who came into the game winning 54.79 percent of his draws on the season but lost four of six Sunday-to start the third and give the Flames momentum.
"The faceoff win at the beginning of the period was a huge boost," Flames captain Jarome Iginla said. "I thought we were coming and had some real good pressure and chances on the power play, but Khabibulin played great."
Sunday was the beginning of a critical four-game road trip for the Flames, who came into Sunday with just 26 points on the road this season, last in the NHL. Considering that the next three include two against the red-hot Wild and then the Canucks, the Flames had to approach Sunday's game against the Hawks as a must-win.
"Every game right now is a must game for us," Iginla said. "We have to solidify a playoff spot."
Both teams scored in the first six minutes of the game on goals would have to be considered suspect from a goaltender's point of view. The Hawks turned the puck over in their own end and Iginla hit Kristian Huselius in stride. Huselius fought off a check and beat Khabibulin from the left circle on the short side for his 32nd of the season.
The Hawks tied it when Lapointe neutralized two Flames in the corner, allowing Radim Vrbata to pick up the puck, and walk to the front of the net and slip a shot between the pads of Miikka Kiprusoff for a 1-1 tie.
The Hawks took the lead late in the first when Denis Arkhipov redirected a shot by Brent Seabrook past Kiprusoff. Despite having a short-handed 2-on-1 in the second period, Martin Havlat was unable to squeeze off a shot as his goal-scoring drought reached 12 games. Havlat had one shot on goal in the game.