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Chicago Blackhawks 3, Colorado Avalanche 2 FINAL SO @NHLdotcom

DENVER (AP) - Nikolai Khabibulin's big contract is starting to look a little better.

Khabibulin played his best game in goal after a shaky start to his career in Chicago, and the Blackhawks scored on all three chances in a shootout to beat the Colorado Avalanche 3-2 Friday night.

``It was definitely better for me,'' Khabibulin said. ``I think mentally it was easier. After a rough first four games, it was easier for me.''

Khabibulin led Tampa Bay to a Stanley Cup title before the lockout and was Chicago's big offseason pickup after the Blackhawks lured him away from the Lightning with a four-year, $27 million contract. He didn't live up to the billing through the first four games, allowing 15 goals with a save percentage of .847 - two of the worst marks in the NHL.

Khabibulin certainly looked worth the money against the Avalanche.

Seeing pucks in traffic and adjusting well to cross-ice passes, Khabibulin made tough saves look easy and kept his ground as Colorado bounced numerous rebounds at him. He stopped 27 shots, including a pair that led to Kyle Calder's go-ahead goal late in regulation.

``He made some good saves. You aren't going to win without good goaltending,'' Chicago coach Trent Yawney said. ``He looked a lot calmer to me than he has all year.''

Colorado's Peter Budaj wasn't bad, either.

He stopped 16 shots to win his NHL debut over the weekend and turned away 38 against the Blackhawks, including 16 in a back-and-forth second period.

Budaj just couldn't do it once the shootout started.

After Colorado's Alex Tanguay matched Tyler Arnason on the first shot of the shootout, rookie Marek Svatos missed the net after Chicago's Tuomo Ruutu scored at the other end. That meant Budaj would have to stop Pavel Vorobiev or the game would be over. Vorobiev used a fake to get Budaj to lean, then flipped it past the goalie's glove side to seal the Blackhawks' second win of the season.

``He's unhappy with the shootout loss, but we all told him he was the reason we got there,'' Colorado's John-Michael Liles said. ``He made a lot of critical saves throughout the game. Not getting to a shootout is something we have to take care of.''

Jaroslav Spacek scored on a shot through traffic in the first period, and Calder put the Blackhawks up 2-1 with six minutes left in regulation, lifting in a rebound after Budaj made a difficult save against Arnason.

But Chicago, just like it had all game, couldn't keep players out of the penalty box. After failing on two brief two-man advantages early, Colorado capitalized this time, with Liles getting a hard slap shot past Khabibulin with 2:03 left in regulation.

Chicago was called for 13 penalties - 11 in the first two periods.

``We have to avoid the penalties,'' Ruutu said. ``It's too easy to fall behind big with them. You make a few mistakes and you're down two or three goals.''

Joe Sakic tied Maurice Richard for 21st on the NHL list with his 544th career goal on a power play midway through the first period and Liles extended his points streak to four games.

What hurt the Avalanche was the power play. The Avalanche worked it around for good shots and got plenty of traffic in front of Khabibulin, but just couldn't get the pucks to go in, finishing 2-for-12.

``Our power play wasn't very effective,'' Avalanche coach Joel Quennveille said. ``We hit a lot of pads tonight, and we did not get a lot of shots through. They did a nice job of getting into the shooting lanes.''

Colorado just missed on a couple of shots during its first 5-on-3 midway through the first period, then broke through for the game's first goal as Spacek skated from the penalty box.

Brett McLean set it up by threading a pass through the crease, and Sakic finished it off with a one-timer that beat Khabibulin to the stick side and tie the ``Rocket.'' The fans got to their feet after the milestone was announced and Sakic acknowledged the cheers by waving his hand from the bench.

``Obviously, anytime you're mentioned with his name, it feels pretty special,'' Sakic said. ``It still would be nice to win the game.''

Notes: Chicago captain Adrian Aucoin missed his third straight games with a groin strain. ... Colorado's Ian Laperriere played career game No. 699. ... Sakic has 1,047 points, two behind Dale Hawerchuk for 15th on the career list.

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