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Blackhawks hand Flames fifth consecutive loss

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- It doesn't take much for the Chicago Blackhawks' wealth of talent to turn mistakes into goals and victories.

The Calgary Flames learned the hard way at United Center on Sunday, when the Blackhawks earned a 2-1 win thanks to Brandon Saad's goal at 12:57 of the third period.

Flames rookie forward Johnny Gaudreau lost an edge, lost the puck and seconds later Saad capped a 2-on-0 rush with a wrist shot that beat goalie Jonas Hiller past the glove into the upper left corner of the net. Passes from defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson and captain Jonathan Toews got him the puck for his seventh goal.

"When you're used to winning and you know how to win, you come ready to play in the third," Saad said, referring to the Blackhawks' 9-4-0 record when tied after two periods and 35 third-period goals thus far. "You want to have a full 60 [minute game] but it's good to finish too."

The win split a weekend back-to-back set for Chicago (21-9-1), which had an eight-game winning streak snapped Saturday after coughing up a 2-1 lead in the third period at the New York Islanders.

Patrick Sharp scored Chicago's other goal on a power play in the second, Toews had two assists and goalie Antti Raanta earned the win with 23 saves.

Jiri Hudler scored the goal for Calgary (17-13-2), which has lost five straight games.

The victory moved the Blackhawks past the idle St. Louis Blues into first place in the Central Division.

"It was a great third period," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "We were OK for 40 [minutes] and then we went to another level in the third. It was a big win for us."

Calgary didn't win a game on a four-game road trip. Much like the previous three contests on the trip, the Flames left the game feeling they could've won.

"The first goal was a perfect execution from the Hawks and then the second goal off a turnover," Calgary coach Bob Hartley said. "[Gaudreau] slipped and lost the puck. He's so good with the puck, but he got a bad edge on his skate, so it's not a matter that he turned the puck over being careless or anything. It was an accident. It was something that doesn't happen too often, but right now it seems like whenever we need a break, it's not there."

Hiller again did his best to help the Flames escape with a win. After making 49 saves in a 2-1 overtime win here Oct. 15, he made 26 saves and gave Calgary a chance right to the end. Raanta did the same for the Blackhawks and earned his fourth win.

Sharp and Hudler each scored in the second. Hudler gave the Flames a 1-0 lead at 4:27 and Sharp capped a power play 4:16 later to tie it 1-1. It also ended an 0-for-10 slump on the man-advantage that spanned the previous four games.

Raanta played for the first time since Dec. 5, when he picked up a win against the Montreal Canadiens in Chicago's most-recent home game before this one. He sat the previous four games in favor of rookie Scott Darling.

Injured starter Corey Crawford is nearing a return from a lower-body injury, so there's a battle for which backup stays in Chicago. Darling, who took the loss Saturday, is 5-2-0 with a 1.97 goals-against average and .937 save percentage in seven games; Raanta has won in three straight starts and owns a 1.85 GAA and .944 save percentage in six games.

The Blackhawks have a tough decision coming.

"I think it's healthy," Quenneville said. "I think competition's not a bad thing. Organizationally, you've got to commend all our goaltenders. They're pushing each other in the right way and they want to play, and they take advantage of the opportunity when they get in there. They've done exactly what you were hoping they would do. It's healthy."

Chicago's penchant for winning games in the third period is also healthy. A day after losing the late lead in New York, the Blackhawks got back to dominating the final period. They outshot Calgary 10-5 and controlled puck possession. Saad and Marian Hossa also spearheaded a great penalty kill early in the period to keep it tied 1-1.

It's something the Flames hope to learn from.

"I don't think we gave them too many good opportunities, it was more perimeter stuff," Calgary defenseman Kris Russell said. "At the same time, when it's a tight game like that we have to find ways to get momentum, get some waves, get a few lines going back-to-back in the [offensive zone] and start creating stuff. You can't wait until you get down a goal and try to do that."

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