ATLANTA -- With all of the hype surrounding the first meeting between the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks and the team to which they traded four of their players in the offseason, the Atlanta Thrashers, it was a newcomer who scored the winning goal in the shootout for the Blackhawks on Saturday -- but two of the Hawks' stars who had the big games in regulation to get them there.
Viktor Stalberg, whom Chicago acquired in a multi-player deal with Toronto involving Kris Versteeg, helped Chicago break a two-game losing streak with the 5-4 victory before 16,022 at Philips Arena while captain Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane came up with four- and three-point efforts, respectively.
Toews was dominant with two goals and two assists, setting up both of Kane's goals. Kane also added an assist.
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said he liked the way the team's leadership, in particular, responded from a recent stretch in which it lost five of seven games entering Saturday.
"I thought they had a great game, great night," Quenneville said. "Good response by our leadership. Nice to see them produce. At the same time I thought they were real committed to the team and what we had to do to be successful."
Toews was tight-lipped with the media following the team's morning skate after Quenneville cut the session short out of displeasure with the players' effort. Toews said he thought a response was necessary.
"That motivation should be coming within our own locker room … we're adults and we're mature hockey players and when it's time to light that fire, you know where," he said. "It was a wake-up call."
The 2010 Conn Smythe winner said the four-point night was the second of his young and brilliant career. A regulation loss would have dropped the 'Hawks a game below .500 16 games into the season -- a fate they wanted to avoid.
"We want to start climbing now and get out of the hole we dug for ourselves," Toews said. "It's all about just improving our game every game and not taking steps back the way we have lately."
Through the first two periods, the game was a carnival of offense with the score tied at 4-4 entering the second intermission. The teams combined to go 5-for-7 on the power play, with Chicago scoring on both of its tries and Atlanta going 3-for-5. Atlanta got three points from its former Chicago players: assists from Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien -- who lead the Thrashers in scoring with 13 points each -- and another assist from Ben Eager.
When Nik Antropov scored from the right circle on the power play, ripping a shot over Marty Turco's left shoulder just 3:14 into the game, it represented the first time in six games this season that Atlanta scored the game's first goal at Philips Arena.
With Anthony Stewart in the penalty box for an offensive zone hooking call, Toews put in a rebound of Brent Seabrook's point shot off the backboard to tie it at 9:52. Chicago went up 2-1 with its second power-play goal when Toews attempted to stuff the puck past Atlanta goalie Ondrej Pavelec from the left post and then Kane swooped in down the right side to put in the rebound at 16:03.
In the second period, Evander Kane evened the score with yet another power play goal at 3:02 -- the first of his career -- and then rookie Alexander Burmistrov, seizing on the momentum, scored 55 seconds later, putting in the long rebound of a shot that rang off the post to make it 3-2 Atlanta.
At that point, Quenneville called timeout to calm down his squad. It worked. Toews took a pass from Stalberg and scored on a breakaway 45 seconds later to even it at 3-3.
For their third power-play goal, the Thrashers used some gorgeous passing. In their entry to Chicago's zone, Ladd set up Antropov for an excellent scoring chance, but he passed across to Rich Peverley who put the puck into an empty net at 11:56.
Chicago tied the game on a miscue by Atlanta at 16:44 and Toews once again served as the catalyst. Pavelec went to play Kane's dump-in behind the net, but Toews used his speed to get there before Pavelec could pass it out and Toews kicked it to Kane who scored into an open net for a 4-4 tie.
Quenneville said he thought the Blackhawks were much more responsible and predictable in a scoreless third period.
In the shootout, former Blackhawks teammates dueled again, as Toews and Ladd scored for their respective teams. Byfuglien had a chance to win it but failed when he shot wide of Turco (33 saves) with a backhander.
Then Stalberg won it.
"It's a lot more fun when you can win it," Stalberg said. "I was hoping Marty would give me a chance to win it."
Despite the shootout loss, Atlanta coach Craig Ramsay said he liked how his team battled, chased and skated. The Thrashers earned a point for the sixth time in seven games (3-1-3).
"We looked like we had speed and we put a lot of pressure on their defense," he said.
As for Chicago, the future is starting to look more promising. While injured center David Bolland was essentially ruled out for his fifth straight game when the Hawks host Edmonton on Sunday at the United Center, Quenneville said he was optimistic right wing Marian Hossa (seven goals in 11 games), who missed his fifth-straight game, would return from an upper-body injury.