Hawks playoff feeling not there, but win is

Tribune staff reporter

Panic would be too strong a word, but certainly concern would work when applied to the recent play of Martin Havlat.

The Blackhawks winger, so vital to their fortunes, went into Tuesday night's game against the Blues without a goal in five games, his longest stretch of the season.

More disturbing was that he was barely noticeable Sunday in Columbus, recording his only shot on goal in the opening two minutes.

That shot drought continued for the first 46 minutes against St. Louis before Havlat picked an opportune time to get back on track. He put his first shot past St. Louis goaltender Manny Legace to ignite a three-goal outburst in 3 minutes 23 seconds early in the third period that led the Hawks to a 4-1 victory.

"I wasn't playing the way I'd like to play," Havlat said.

The combination of opponents paying him much more attention and a bout of the flu combined to slow Havlat and the Hawks, who were 2-3 in those five games.

"The season is long, and you get stretches when you play great and everything is easy," Havlat said. "I haven't had the same jump lately I had earlier in the season."

Fortunately for the Hawks, Nikolai Khabibulin was on top of his game. If he hadn't been, the Hawks could have been buried in the opening 10 minutes.

St. Louis had five power plays in the first half of the first period, including three two-man advantages that totaled 2:04. But it took the Blues until the last of the two-man advantages to capitalize with Keith Tkachuk's shot past Khabibulin.

"We have to be a little smarter about that," said Khabibulin, who finished the night with 38 saves. "We can't give teams that many power-play chances. The second and third periods we picked it up."

The Blues, riding a stretch in which they had been unbeaten in regulation in their last eight games and winners of two straight, held on to the lead until Radim Vrbata found Havlat from behind the net for Havlat's 13th goal of the season 6:15 into the third period.

That opened the door for the Hawks as Peter Bondra and Jeff Hamilton quickly increased the lead to 3-1. Martin Lapointe added an empty-netter with 44 seconds left.

"The penalty killing and especially Khabibulin won the game," Adrian Aucoin said.

The Blues were 1 of 9 on the power play.


Bondra's goal was his first since scoring his 500th Dec. 22 against Toronto. . . . Hamilton's goal was his first in four games. . . . Havlat's goal snapped a shutout streak of 127:07 for Legace. . . . Rene Bourque, scoreless in eight games since returning from a throat injury, was scratched along with Carl Corazzini. . . . Tony Salmelainen played 2:38 in the first period, more than he had played in three of his last five games. He finished the night playing 7:20, his most ice time in eight games. . . . This week's issue of Sports Illustrated profiles Hawks coach Denis Savard.


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