Khabibulin Not Enough As Hawks, Niemi Win 4-3

Antti Niemi

The Chicago Blackhawks opened their home calendar with three tough contests on paper. The Colorado Avalanche, Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers are all among the top teams in there Western Conference, and the Blackhawks got each team’s best shot.

Even when the Hawks weren’t their best, though, they were good enough to beat all three teams.

On Wednesday, two days after giving up five quick goals in the first period against Calgary, the Hawks got on the board only 51 seconds into the contest. Patrick Sharp, who’s been as hot as any skater in the league, beat Nikolai Khabibulin to get the Hawks started.

But the Oilers countered minutes later, tying the game at one. With just under seven minutes left in the opening frame, though, Jack Skille broke the tie with his first goal of the season. The period would end with the Blackhawks up 2-1.

The Hawks were noticeably more aggressive on the boards and shooting the puck in the first period, and their defense stiffled the Oilers. The Hawks outshot the Oilers 16-6 in the first period, and it showed on the scoreboard.

The rush from the Hawks continued in the second period. Kris Versteeg scored on a great assist from Brian Campbell to extend the lead to 3-1, and the Blackhawks had a great chance to add another when Sharp was awarded a penalty shot after being tripped on a breakaway by Jason Studwick. Khabibulin stopped Sharp to keep the score at 3-1 as the second period ended.

At the end of two periods, the Hawks were dominating the Oilers in every part of the game. They had outshot the visitors 30-10, were leading by two, and had drawn the only penalty of the game to that point. Khabibulin was playing a fantastic game, but wasn’t getting much help.

The third period started slowly but climbed to a frantic climax as the Oilers clawed back into the game with a push that ended up being too little, too late. Cam Barker scored the game winning goal with a blast from the blue line that beat Khabibulin, who was fighting around a Sharp screen when the puck passed his shoulder.

In the game, Niemi stopped 16 of 19 shots and improved his record on the young season to 3-0-0. Khabibulin was marvelous, stopping 34 of 38 shots in the loss.

Scoring goals for the Blackhawks were Sharp, Versteeg, Skille and Barker. Jonathan Toews and Campbell each had two assists, and Andrew Ladd, Sharp, Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson all had one assist in the victory.

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