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First goal is no edge

Saturday, 04.25.2009 / 4:42 PM / 2009 Playoffs Conference Quarterfinals

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

CHICAGO -- There's this belief the first goal of any hockey game provides just the mental edge a club may need to win, particularly in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Not so in the Western Conference Quarterfinal series between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Calgary Flames. The teams enter Game 5 of this entertaining best-of-7 on Saturday night at United Center even at two games apiece with the firsthand knowledge that scoring first hasn't meant a thing.

The Flames scored first in the opening two games at United Center and lost. The opened the scoring in the two games at Pengrowth Saddledome before losing.

Is it possible the first goal of the game in this series has actually benefitted the team that was trailing?

"It's funny -- in (Game 4), they scored first and Todd Bertuzzi looked at me and said, 'Every game, the team that scored first has lost,' and I don't know what to make of it," Flames forward Mike Cammalleri said. "I'd like to break that streak tonight."

During the regular season, the Blackhawks had a 33-5-5 record when scoring first, a .767 winning percentage that was fifth-highest in the NHL. The Flames were 11th with a .703 percentage (26-6-5).

"It's a hard to predict because you're always looking for quick starts and looking to score first and build upon the lead," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "I just think you have to move on because it's a long game and I think both teams are able to score because each has dangerous offensive weapons so I don't think any lead is safe. But certainly, we strive to get that first goal and build upon it."

Calgary coach Mike Keenan feels it's not so much a letdown by the team scoring first as it is a different mentality taken by team that gets scored on.

"My sense of it is the desperation level rises for the team that gets scored on," Keenan said. "I think it's more about teams not letting up and getting more motivated. This has been a great series and great hockey, and we expect the people to see more of that tonight."

Chicago's Patrick Kane, who appears fully recovered from the flu-like symptoms that sidelined him for Game 3, is just excited to be home.

"We want the early lead on this team so we can play with the lead and, looking at every game in the series, the road team has scored first so you're never really playing with the lead at home," Kane said. "If we're able to do that (Saturday), maybe it'll put us in pretty good shape."

Chicago defenseman Brian Campbell, who has three assists in four games, knows it's only a matter of time before the team scoring first is rewarded.

"I still want the first goal," Campbell said. "You're beginning to see the first goal of the game not meaning as much nowadays. Prior to the lockout, I think it did mean something, but teams are so evenly matched today, especially in the playoffs."

Victor Versteeg -- Blackhawks rookie forward Kris Versteeg has had a pretty eventful series despite the fact he and 11 other core members of the team with at least 50 regular-season games under their belt are new to the postseason.

That list includes captain Jonathan Toews, star forward Patrick Kane, and defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. On the same day he was nominated for the Calder Trophy as the League top rookie on Wednesday, Versteeg did his best to almost rally the Blackhawks victory in Game 4 when he posted his first playoff goal while adding two assists.

"I feel good and it's been exciting," Versteeg said. "The playoffs have been everything I thought it would be about and both atmospheres in both rinks have been unbelievable."

Versteeg led all NHL rookies this season with 31 assists as part of the young core that drove Chicago to the playoffs for the first time since 2002. His 4 shorthanded goals also were tops among League rookies and fourth overall. He recorded points in five straight games (4 goals, 8 points) from Nov. 14-22. In the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on New Year's Day at Wrigley Field, Versteeg chipped in with a goal and one assist.

"Coming back home and playing against a team like Calgary, which is big up front, allows you to get those line matchups, so it'll help us," Versteeg said.

No surprise in net -- Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville declared Nikolai Khabibulin his starter during his morning news conference.

The "Bulin Wall," who had a 26-8-2 career record against Calgary when the series began, is 2-2 with a 3.29 goals-against average and .883 save percentage through four games.

The Blackhawks know they'll have to do a better job in front of Khabibulin after getting torched for 10 goals -- including an empty-netter -- in the previous two losses in Calgary.

"We need better defensive-zone coverage overall," Chicago's Patrick Kane said. "They obviously caught a couple breaks, but I still feel having the defense-first mentality for the game (on Saturday) will only benefit us in the long run."

Roy suspension
-- Flames enforcer Andre Roy, who played less than four minutes in Game 4, was suspended one game by the NHL on Thursday because of an incident in the pregame skate.

The League said Roy, who was fined $2,500, initiated contact with Hawks defenseman Aaron Johnson during the warmups and, as a result, the 6-foot-4, 229-pound native of Port Chester, N.Y., will sit for Game 5.

When asked for his opinion on the suspension, Calgary coach Mike Keenan offered no comment.

"I'll let Mr. (Colin) Campbell and his staff address the suspension issues," Keenan said.

Contact Mike Morreale at mmorreale@nhl.com.

Quote of the Day

Just the feel for the direction they were headed and what they're trying to do, it just felt that this is a really good thing for this organization. They've got the pieces. We can put something together and go on a run or two and be together for a while, and I'm really excited about that opportunity. The team we have here has an opportunity to win, and that's the most attractive thing.

— Washington defenseman Matt Niskanen on why he decided to sign with the Capitals