By Chris Kuc
April 17, 2009
For the first time in seven years — or 2,548 days, to be exact — the Hawks took to the ice for postseason play Thursday night when they faced the Calgary Flames in Game 1 of the Western Conference quarterfinals.
Before a roaring crowd of 22,478 that threatened to shatter the eardrums of those in attendance at the United Center, the Hawks took advantage of the rarefied playoff air and rallied to defeat the Flames 3-2 in overtime for a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Martin Havlat scored his second goal of the game 12 seconds into overtime and Cam Barker also scored to help Hawks goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin outduel Flames counterpart Miikka Kiprusoff for the victory that gave the Hawks a 32-30 overall mark in postseason overtime games.
"We battled hard, we were patient and we were sticking to the plan until the end," said Havlat, who sent the winner from just inside the blue line past a screened Kiprusoff. "Just a great first game. They played very well, but we didn't get frustrated at all. We were battling hard until the end, and Khabibulin was great."
The Flames took early advantage on a David Moss' goal midway through the first period.
Barker knotted the score 1-1 early in the second on a shot Kiprusoff no doubt wishes he had back. After the defenseman's initial shot was blocked by a sliding Eric Nystrom, Barker corralled the puck and sent a shot from the outside of the left circle that skipped past Kiprusoff on the stick side.
"Not a lot of guys have been in this situation before, and to get our legs under us and get that first win, especially in overtime, feels pretty good," Barker said. "I'm sure everyone was nervous before the game, but as soon as you get the first couple of shifts out of the way, everyone felt good and we played a pretty good game."
Calgary took a 2-1 lead on Mike Cammalleri's goal early in the third, but Havlat knocked in a rebound of his own shot from the bottom of the right circle to tie the game 2-2 with 5:33 left.
"They are experienced, and it wasn't their first playoff game, we could see that," Havlat said of the Flames. "Our guys battled hard, and we were the happier team at the end."
Khabibulin made 23 saves while Kiprusoff stopped 25 as the Hawks continued their mastery over the Flames, whom they defeated all four times they met in the regular season.
"They came at us really hard off the start and I thought we weathered a lot of that," Hawks defenseman Brian Campbell said. "We gave up a couple of goals off a couple of miscues. We stuck with it, and it shows a lot of grit on the team. You have to find the ugly goals, and that's what happened."
The ugliest was the winner, as Andrew Ladd was in front of Kiprusoff and the Flames believed the Hawks winger interfered with the goalie while Havlat's shot sailed in.
"It's part of the game plan," Flames coach Mike Keenan said. "It's a good game plan if you get away with it and so far they have."
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said traffic in front of the goaltender is something his team needs to do for success in the series.
"Every game is the same situation — you want to get to the net," Quenneville said. "You want to get traffic. You don't want the goalie to see the puck. On that play, he got hit into the net."
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