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Blackhawks cruise, hold Devils to 12 shots

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- The New Jersey Devils are known for their sound defense, but the high-scoring Chicago Blackhawks beat them at their own game Monday night.

The Blackhawks limited the Devils to 12 shots and turned their defensive effort into an impressive 5-2 victory at United Center, getting back on track after dropping their previous game in a shootout against the Vancouver Canucks.

"Tonight we were in the right places every time and we didn't give them much," said Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa, who had two assists. "Obviously we had lots of puck possession and that was the key."

Five Chicago players posted two-point games. Patrick Sharp scored twice to give him 10 goals in the past 14 games and 18 for the season. Nick Leddy had a goal and assist, and Patrick Kane extended his point streak to 12 games with a goal in the second period.

Brent Seabrook, Brandon Saad and Hossa each had with two assists for Chicago (26-7-6), which heads into the three-day Christmas break on a high note. After the break, a tough back-to-back set awaits -- Friday at home against the Colorado Avalanche and Saturday at the St. Louis Blues.

"It feels good," Sharp said. "[It was] a big win in front of our crowd and with three days off it feels even better. We can kind of put our feet up and relax, enjoy our families and get ready for two big games coming out of the break."

Prior to the game, Devils coach Peter DeBoer told reporters it would be a tall challenge trying to contain the NHL's top-scoring team. The Blackhawks came into the game with 140 goals, 15 more than the second-ranked Blues.

"Their ability to create offense, I think the goals for speak for themselves," DeBoer said. "That's a team that can put four or five [goals] on the board really easily. They're high-octane and we have to find a way to slow them down."

The plan nearly worked until the third period, when Chicago answered an early goal by Michael Ryder with two of their own. Sharp and Leddy scored about seven minutes apart in the third to blow the game open.

Sharp's goal came on a breakaway, when Hossa found him with a nice pass behind the New Jersey defense and he buried a snap shot past Cory Schneider's glove for a 4-2 lead. There is some talk about whether Sharp will be selected to play for Team Canada in the upcoming Winter Olympics, but at least one teammate thinks it's an easy call.

"If he's not being considered then I wouldn't really know what to say, because the guy's had a heck of a last few seasons and a great start again to this season," forward Kris Versteeg said. "He's put himself in the running to be nominated to that team, so for his sake I hope he makes it. He definitely deserves it."

Versteeg and Leddy assisted on Kane's goal, which gave him a second point streak of 12 games this season. The streaks are separated by one pointless game -- Nov. 29, a 2-1 shootout victory on the road against the Dallas Stars.

"I think I'm just learning more about the game and about what I can do when I get the puck," said Kane, who has six goals and 19 points in the current streak. "I can create opportunities for myself and my teammates, so it's really nothing more than that. I guess I've maybe learned a little more about the League and how to create chances and how to get to the net to try to produce."

It was Chicago's first victory against New Jersey since April 2, 2010 and first at United Center against the Devils since Dec. 31, 2009. Blackhawks rookie Antti Raanta improved to 8-1-2 in 12 games by making 10 saves; Schneider stopped 32 shots for the Devils.

New Jersey got its other goal from Stephen Gionta.

DeBoer saw what he wanted, for the most part, in the first period. New Jersey limited Chicago's scoring chances and held the Blackhawks to 12 shots. The problem was how much it limited the Devils' offense.

They put one shot on goal against Raanta in the period and trailed 1-0 after Sharp's opening goal at 12:59, a long wrister near the half wall above the left circle.

"It was just a messy, ugly game," DeBoer said. "That's a great team that can make you look bad if you're not on your game and we weren't on our game. I don't have a reason, no excuse. It's a good lesson for us, so I think we're a team that has to play at full capacity every night. We can't have passengers. We can't have an off night. If we do have an off night against a team like that, that's what it looks like."

Gionta tied it 5:37 into the second period by tipping Jonathan Merrill's shot from the high slot past Raanta for his second goal of the season. The Blackhawks went right back to controlling the puck for long stretches to widen their advantage in shots. They retook the lead and widened it with the goals by Kane and Bryan Bickell 4:30 apart.

Kane smacked home a rebound of Leddy's shot from the slot at 7:57 after the puck popped out of Schneider's glove. Bickell took a feed from Saad and made it 3-1 at 12:27 by wiring a wrister through traffic into the upper right corner.

Chicago hit the post a couple times in the second to keep it a two-goal margin, with a 25-8 advantage in shots. That set the stage for the Devils to get within 3-2 on Ryder's goal 59 seconds into the third; he backhanded a shot from the low slot past Raanta.

Hossa picked up his second assist with another great pass to Sharp for the breakaway goal, and Leddy followed with his power-play goal at 12:59.

"When you go into the best team in the League's building and the defending Stanley Cup champs, you have to have the effort," Schneider said. "Teams like that will run you out of the building if you're not at your best. I think we all as a group, including me, we can be better."

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