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Cam Ward makes 25 saves as Carolina blanks the Blackhawks 3-0 @NHLdotcom

CHICAGO - Cam Ward made 25 saves for his fourth shutout of the season, and Eric Staal had a goal and two assists to lead the surging Carolina Hurricanes to a 3-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday night.

Erik Cole and Matt Cullen also scored for Carolina, which won its fifth straight and eighth in nine games to strengthen its hold on first place in the Southeast Division.

The Hurricanes scored all three goals during a 3:48 span midway through the first period. Ward, who made his 10th straight start, posted his sixth NHL shutout.

The Blackhawks lost their fourth straight (0-3-1), all but dashing their post-season hopes. Chicago has missed the playoffs in eight of the last nine seasons.

Rookie goalie Corey Crawford started for the second straight night and made 29 saves. Crawford started back-to-back NHL games for the first time.

Nikolai Khabibulin, the Blackhawks' No. 1 goalie and highest-paid player, missed his 11th straight game due to back spasms.

Cole's power-play goal opened the scoring 8:57 in. Left wide open in the slot, he took Sergei Samsonov's centring pass and beat Crawford with a shot that trickled between the pads.

Cullen's power-play score 1:42 later made it 2-0. After Staal's drive from the point hit traffic in front of the net, Cullen converted the rebound.

Staal extended the lead to three goals with 7:15 left in the first. He slipped past Chicago's defence, then broke in alone on Crawford.

Ward made one of his few tough saves midway through the scoreless second, stopping Dave Bolland's one-timed shot from the right circle.

Chicago's Craig Adams broke in and clanked a shot off the right post with 6:08 left in the second. With 2:29 remaining in the period, Ward made a point-blank save against Patrick Kane.

A shot by Blackhawks forward Jason Williams hit the left post 7:40 into the third.

Notes: Carolina D Glen Wesley returned after missing a game with a foot injury. ... Six Hurricanes sat out with injuries: LW Wade Brookbank, LW Ray Whitney, C Rod Brind'Amour, C Chad LaRose, RW Justin Williams and D David Tanabe. ... Including Khabibulin, five injured Chicago regulars missed the game: LW Martin Havlat, D Brent Sopel, C Yanic Perreault and LW Ben Eager. ... Chicago D James Wisnieswki served a one-game NHL suspension for cross-checking Detroit's Mikael Samuelsson on Tuesday. ... Pro Football Hall-of-Famer Gale Sayers dropped the ceremonial first puck.

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