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Flames try to cool off sizzling Hawks

by Frank Mentesana

BLACKHAWKS (12-4-3) at FLAMES (7-9-1)


Last 10: Chicago 7-2-1; Calgary 5-5-0

Season series: Friday's contest is the second of four matchups between these clubs, who met exactly one week ago in Chicago. The Blackhawks handed the Flames a 4-1 loss that night, as Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook each notched his first goal of the season. Patrick Sharp chipped in with three assists and backup goalie Ray Emery stopped 24 shots, while Calgary netminder Miikka Kiprusoff made 27 saves in defeat.

Big Story: The Blackhawks quickly put their three-game losing skid behind them by winning four in a row to claim the top spot in the NHL standings -- the come into the game leading all clubs with 12 wins and 27 points. A big reason for the prompt turnaround has been their power play, which was last in the League as recently as Nov. 8, converting on just 5 of 57 opportunities at that point. Since then, Chicago has gone 6-for-14 with the man advantage, scoring 21 goals during their current winning streak.

Team Scope:

Blackhawks: Chicago began its annual "Circus Trip" with an impressive 5-1 win at Vancouver on Tuesday, evening up the season series after Vancouver's 6-2 blowout win in Chicago 10 days earlier. The Hawks surrendered five power-play goals in that first meeting, but did not give Vancouver any opportunities with the extra man on Wednesday, while they converted their first two chances.

"It's huge for us, especially against a team like that," said Patrick Kane, who turns 23 on Saturday. "We wanted to play disciplined and we did that and capitalized on our power plays too. So overall, (it was) a good night for special teams."

The big guns were all over the scoresheet as captain Jonathan Toews and Kane each posted a goal and an assist, Sharp tallied his sixth of the season and Marian Hossa notched three assists. Corey Crawford made 28 saves and has a 2.34 GAA in winning his last three starts, but the real story was the vast improvement of the power play.

"The last three or four games it's crawling, it's slowly coming back," said Andrew Brunette, whose four goals this season have all come on the power play. "It's been a point of frustration for everybody here. It's nice to get a couple, and hopefully the snowball is rolling downhill and we'll pick up a little momentum here."

Flames: Whatever the Hawks are having, the Flames would like some too. Calgary's power play -- especially at home -- has completely stalled, going 17 straight chances without scoring. On home ice, they are a League-worst 2-for-40. With the Ottawa Senators in town on Tuesday, the Flames went 0-for-6 with the extra man in a 3-1 loss. A one-timer by Tom Kostopoulos with 14 seconds left in the second period was the only shot out of 39 to get past Craig Anderson, as the Flames lost for the third time in four games. Earlier in the second, Calgary had a 5-on-3 advantage for just over a minute, but could not even register a shot on goal.

"Special teams have to be better, obviously," defenseman Mark Giordano said. "Our power-play has to be able to find a way to put a goal in there, especially when you get 5-on-3's. It was a tight game down the stretch and a couple breakdowns cost us."

In general, offense has become a problem for the Flames, who are second-worst in the League averaging 2.12 goals-per-game.

Who's Hot: Toews has five goals and eight points during the four-game winning streak, while Hossa is 1-7-8 and Kane has three goals and six points in that stretch.

Injury Report: For the Hawks, Michael Frolik (upper body) is questionable after going awkwardly into the boards while bent over at the waist in the third period of Tuesday's game. Seabrook will not suit up and is day-to-day with a lower-body injury after he crashed feet-first into the boards on Sunday. After missing three games, Dave Bolland returned against Vancouver and is "fine" according to coach Joel Quenneville. … Calgary forward David Moss (lower body) didn't play against Ottawa and is questionable, while Anton Babchuk (hand) and Brendan Morrison (knee surgery) remain on IR.

Stat Pack: The Blackhawks' 12-4-3 record marks their best start since the 1982-83 season. The Hawks are 10-0-2 when scoring at least three goals.

Puck Drop: Jarome Iginla, Rene Bourque, and Curtis Glencross share the Flames' team lead with five goals each. Columbus is the only other team which doesn't feature a player with more than five goals.

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