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Blackhawks' penalty killing spotless in 2-1 win
The penalty-killing unit gave the Blackhawks continued life in the Western Conference playoff race.
The Hawks fended off all seven Colorado Avalanche advantages, including one in the final two minutes, for a 2-1 victory before a crowd of 21,715 Sunday at the United Center. The victory was the third straight overall and third in a row over a conference opponent ahead of the Hawks, who are five points out of the playoffs.
"Unbelievable," Hawks goaltender Patrick Lalime said of the penalty killers. "In games like this, it's huge. A one-goal game, and guys were diving for pucks, [making] second efforts and diving to get it out."
The Hawks killed off a 1-minute-9-second Colorado five-on-three advantage over the end of the first period and beginning of the second. Then they withstood nearly a minute and a half of six-on-four play after Dustin Byfuglien had been sent off for tripping and the Avalanche pulled goalie Jose Theodore in the waning moments.
Lalime was strong for the second straight game while starter Nikolai Khabibulin recovers from a sprained knee. The veteran made 21 saves to improve to 10-7-1.
"Patrick was our best penalty killer," said Craig Adams, who played 3 minutes 33 seconds while the Hawks were short-handed. "You knew [Colorado] was probably going to come on in the end, and Patrick would have to make a few good saves and we would have to kill a couple off. Mostly it's good goaltending and getting pucks out when we get a chance."
The Hawks' offense didn't take long to strike. Byfuglien tipped in a shot from the point by James Wisniewski while the Hawks were on a power play of their own at 4:48 of the first.
"Coming off a long trip and not having played at home for a while, some teams struggle with the first couple of periods," said Byfuglien of the Hawks' first home game since going 3-2-2 on a season-long trip. "The last couple of days our main focus was worrying about the first five or 10 minutes of the game, getting back to basics and getting used to our building again."
Martin Havlat's goal at 2:53 of the second made it 2-0. The winger picked up a loose puck and fired it past Theodore from the right faceoff dot for his eighth of the season.
"The last three games we're playing much better defensively," Havlat said. "The key thing for us is the forechecking. That's why we're winning those games."
The Hawks set the tone early with several big checks that got the second-largest crowd of the season roaring.
"Give credit to our players," coach Denis Savard said. "They came ready to play. We asked them to be physical early to get the crowd involved. We had a pretty loud crowd. I told [the players] that if we get them [into it] early they're going to help us a lot, and they did."
Jaroslav Hlinka's goal with 2:35 left spoiled Lalime's shutout bid, but that was about the only thing that went wrong. The Hawks outhit (15-7), outshot (27-22) and outplayed the Avalanche.
"We're rolling four lines, we're getting a lot of energy, we're getting pucks deep and everybody's buying in and finishing their checks," said Wisniewski, who assisted on both Hawks goals.
"D-men are getting point shots and forwards are crashing the net, so it's a little bit of everything we're doing right now."