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Blackhawks break through against Predators

by Brian Hunter
The Chicago Blackhawks know they'll have to solve the Detroit Red Wings at some point this season if they want to catch up to their Original Six rivals and win the Central Division.

But on Sunday, their focus needed to be on figuring out the Nashville Predators, who had enjoyed some nice success of their own against Chicago this season. The Preds arrived at United Center looking for a home-and-home sweep after winning 4-1 in Nashville on Saturday.

Nikolai Khabibulin made sure they didn't get it, stopping 26 shots, and Dave Bolland scored the go-ahead goal in the second period as the Blackhawks snapped a two-game losing streak with a 3-1 victory.

Dustin Byfuglien opened the scoring on a power-play goal and Martin Havlat added an empty-netter to lead Chicago to its first win over Nashville in three tries this season. The Predators also won in a shootout on Oct. 13 at United Center, where the Hawks are now 13-1-4 this season.

"We didn't do too well against the division rivals this year so far -- especially, we lost to them last night, so we really wanted to win tonight," Khabibulin said. "Everybody battled hard and we accomplished what we wanted."

Martin Erat scored and Dan Ellis made 30 saves for the Predators, who had won their last two games, both at home. They currently find themselves 12th in the Western Conference, though only four points out of a playoff spot.

"They had a very strong offense tonight and generated a lot of quality chances," Ellis said. "They showed a little more of the Chicago skill and speed we're used to seeing."

Following one of Khabibulin's six second-period saves, the Blackhawks turned the puck up ice and Andrew Ladd took a shot that Ellis stopped with his pad. Bolland was able to tuck in the rebound at 5:58 to give Chicago a 2-1 lead.

Khabibulin turned aside all 12 shots the Predators tested him with in the third, and Havlat put the finishing touches on the victory by scoring with 10 seconds left.

"I just liked the approach in the locker room going into the game, and taking care of the details as the game progressed," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said.

Byfuglien and Erat traded goals less than two minutes apart in the first. Byfuglien beat Ellis through a screen at 9:11 with a rising shot from the circle, as the Hawks cashed in on a Jordin Tootoo hooking penalty. Erat responded at 11:03 by deflecting a precision pass by Tootoo from across the front of the crease.

"I though we gave up too many good chances to team we can't afford to," Nashville's Shea Weber said. "We can't play a high-risk game against a team like this. (Ellis) made a couple of big saves and held us in there."

Oilers 2, Blues 1 | Video

Sam Gagner registered a goal and an assist, and Edmonton got contributions from some new players in taking two points from St. Louis at Rexall Place on Sunday.

Gagner netted the game-winning goal at 6:31 of the third period. Ryan Potulny had an assist on the play and also set up Gilbert Brule's first goal as an Oiler earlier in the game. Potulny made his Edmonton debut after leading Springfield of the AHL in scoring, while Brule skated in his sixth game with the team.

"We played a smart game," coach Craig MacTavish said. "We played a lot smarter than we had the last couple games. We didn't blow them out of the water or anything but we had a very sharp game."

Dwayne Roloson finished with 21 saves, allowing only a Yan Stastny goal that opened the scoring for the Blues, and the Oilers won for the first time in three games to move within two points of a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

"We talked the last few days about getting that energy back," Gagner said. "Last year at the end of the season we were gaining energy from everything whether a hit or a big play. We really need to establish that again. There was a lot of emotion tonight and that's the way we have to play. Hopefully we can build off of it."

Persistent forechecking set up Gagner's goal, which came after Erik Cole sent a pass back to the point and Gagner ripped a shot past Manny Legace for his fourth of the season.

St. Louis outshot Edmonton 10-9 in a scoreless first period and broke through 2:44 into the second when Jay McClement skated out from behind the net and chipped the puck over Roloson's pad to Stastny, who tapped it into the open cage.

Brule, who scored 12 goals in 146 career games for Columbus from 2005-08, evened things up at the 8:49 mark. Potulny sent him in alone on Legace with a breakaway pass and Brule beat him on a deke to tie the score.   

"I was cheating a little bit and was wide open for the pass," Brule said. "I broke in and went upstairs because he is a smaller goalie. We talked about that before the game."

The Blues, meanwhile, couldn't build off the momentum from a spirited 6-4 win in Vancouver on Friday.

"That definitely wasn't a good effort," McClement said. "It's disappointing after we made strides and we played well two nights ago. I think it's unacceptable. For whatever reason we just didn't have the bite we did two nights ago. You have to follow up good efforts with just as good if not better efforts. I'm sure this one is not sitting well with anyone."

Material from wire services and team broadcast media was used in this report.

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