The good news for the Blackhawks after the first period Saturday night was that they had a four-goal lead.
The bad news was that they still had 40 minutes left to protect it.
That almost turned out to be too much time, but the Hawks hung on for a 6-4 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets to pull back to the .500 mark.
The Hawks jumped to a 4-1 lead after 13 minutes on goals from Jeff Hamilton, Martin Havlat, Denis Arkhipov and Tuomo Ruutu. The goals came rather easily on tap-ins, defensive breakdowns or, in the case of Havlat's, incredible skill.
The Hawks ended the period ahead 5-1 when Bryan Smolinski scored with 27 seconds left. As a group they were plus-20 in the opening 20 minutes.
"We played OK, nothing great," coach Denis Savard said. "We capitalized on our chances."
The chances they were getting in the first period went the other way in the second, as it was Columbus' turn to dominate the game.
Three goalsfrom David Vyborny, Fredrik Modin and Alexander Svitovin the first 11:31 cut the lead to 5-4. All of a sudden, the Hawks were in a game going into the final period.
"We had a great start, but after the first period we stopped playing," Havlat said. "But we battled hard in the third period."
The combination of getting a big lead too easily and the new NHL, in which no lead is safe anymore, can be a deadly combination for a team.
Havlat added an assist on Lasse Kukkonen's fourth goal of the season midway through the third period to close the scoring.
Havlat was, for him, in a mini-slump, having gone back-to-back games without a point for the first time this season. He said before the game he wasn't concerned because he was still getting chances.
Saturday night was the seventh time in 12 games that Havlat had put up multiple points. Savard shuffled his lines a little Saturday, putting Havlat with Arkhipov and Peter Bondra, and Ruutu with Patrick Sharp and Hamilton.
Columbus nearly tied the game early in the third when, after a Hawks power play, Svitov came out of the penalty box and hit the crossbar. Svitov had two other great chances late in the third on a power play but was denied by Nikolai Khabibulin, who made 32 saves to win for the fourth time this season when giving up three goals or more.
"It's a character win," Savard said. "It's not easy to win in this league, and it's not easy to win on the road. So it's a good win."
The five first-period goals are a season high, surpassing the four the Hawks scored opening night in Nashville. The team record for goals in a period is seven, which the Hawks have done four times, the last coming Nov. 29, 1972, against Detroit. The Hawks won despite being totally dominated in the faceoff circle. Columbus won 72 percent, 32 of 53, with Svitov winning 9 of 11, Manny Malhotra 10 of 12 and Dan Fritsche 7 of 9. On the Hawks' end, Arkhipov won just 3 of 15. Defenseman Brent Seabrook was a minus-1 and is minus-4 in his last three games. Hamilton's goal was his eighth in nine games in December. Bondra is still looking for his 500th goal. He had one shot on goal Saturday and was a plus-2 in 17:10 of play. He picked up an assist on Havlat's goal. Defenseman Adrian Aucoin is expected to be back in the lineup Sunday against Colorado. Winger Tony Salmelainen was scratched for the second straight game. The Hawks have now collected 15 points in 10 games under Savard (.750).
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