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Slow start dooms Blackhawks once again

Wednesday, 03.18.2009 / 12:11 AM / Brodeur Watch

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer

NEWARK, N.J. – The task already was tall for the Chicago Blackhawks -- Snap out of a two-game winless skid against the NHL's most feared goaltender on his home ice.

But for the sixth-straight game, the Blackhawks made it harder, forced to play from behind. That's a pretty onerous proposition for any team matched against goalie Martin Brodeur and a Devils team that entered the game third in the League with a 2.43 goals-against average.

It took the Devils just six minutes to grab a two-goal lead and, for all intents and purposes, put the Blackhawks on their heels the remainder of the contest as Brodeur salted away his record 552nd career victory, tops in NHL annals.

"We're a way better hockey team playing with the lead or playing tied," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "Playing catch-up is tough in our League because then you begin to force plays or make high risk plays. When you're making poor percentage plays against teams that check properly, like New Jersey, that plays into their favor and that's exactly what has happened to us in recent games."

The Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to the Devils before 17,625 at Prudential Center was their third straight regulation loss -- a season high. At this rate, the club might not find itself locked in as the fourth seed in the Western Conference for much longer. The victory was also No. 552 for Brodeur, who passed Patrick Roy for the all-time lead in that category.

"There's no special feeling in here for us right now," Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith said. "(Brodeur's) not on our team and we wanted to get the two points but, having said that, he's a good goaltender and he deserves everything he gets. But next time we play them (March 27 in Chicago), we'll be excited to play and hopefully have a better start to the game."

Chicago defenseman Brian Campbell is dumbfounded by the recent slew of poor starts that have kept the Blackhawks from solidifying a playoff spot in the Western Conference in recent weeks.

"It's extremely hard to play catch-up and New Jersey is probably the toughest team to do it against," Campbell said. "They clamp you down and don't give you much and we have to put a stop to that and pay more attention to detail in preparing and getting ready for games."

Campbell wasn't really in a festive mood following his team's third-consecutive defeat.

"Honestly, I can watch (Brodeur) break the record on TV if I wanted to," Campbell said. "I'd rather it not be on a night when we're in town because we're desperate for points right now."

Chicago has not defeated the Devils in over 11 years, a stretch of eight regulation losses and one tie. The last time the Blackhawks celebrated a victory against New Jersey was Oct. 10, 1998 and their last triumph in New Jersey was Dec. 30, 1997.

"We've kind of gotten ourselves in trouble by getting behind from the start in previous games and it happened again," Blackhawks rookie wing Kris Versteeg said. "We've also run into a string of hot goaltenders, so I don't think you can complain about the way we've been competing. Teams will run into hot goaltenders and I think we ran into a stretch of hot goaltenders."

Including Tuesday's shot-blocker, Brodeur, who made 30 saves en route to his eighth victory over his last nine appearances since his return from surgery to repair a torn tendon in his left biceps last month.

"I don't know, I'm just frustrated right now," said Chicago captain Jonathan Toews. "I don't know what else to say. We keep telling ourselves to get off to a good start, but we keep digging ourselves a hole in the first five minutes of every game so I really don't know what to say anymore. It's frustrating, but it's great for Marty."

To their credit, the Blackhawks did battle back after falling behind by three goals with under five minutes remaining in the second period.

Cam Barker pulled Chicago within 3-1 on a power-play goal at the 17:28 mark of the second before Dustin Byfuglien pared the deficit to one on a goal with 17:57 left in the third.

"You look at the stats and you know the odds are slim when you fall behind," Toews said. "We haven't come back and we haven't won any of these games. I don't know, something has to break eventually because we're working hard and I don't know if we need a lucky break or something to go our way, but we keep telling ourselves we need a good start. But life goes on and we'll wake up tomorrow and go back to work. That's all you can do at this point."

Patrick Kane, who assisted on Barker's power-play goal in the second, is also miffed by the team's lackadaisical starts.

"It's something we talked about before the first shift where we knew we wanted to play with the lead," Kane said. "We wanted to play a patient game but they came out and scored right away, so it wasn't fun since we were forced to play catch up again. Hopefully, we'll get the first one in our next game and try and play with the lead for once."

The Blackhawks get right back at it Wednesday when they battle the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena.

Contact Mike Morreale at:

Quote of the Day

Yeah, I guess so. That empty-netter was pretty lucky, but I'll take it.

— Senators forward Mike Hoffman when asked if his two-goal game was a good way to celebrate his 26th birthday
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