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Hawks cruise past Preds

by Brian Compton
Chicago's Nikolai Khabibulin celebrates with Robert Lang after the Blackhawks beat the Nashville Predators 5-2.
One team’s in a slump; the other is attempting to get out of one.

Such was the case at the United Center on Wednesday night, as the Chicago Blackhawks won for just the second time in nine games with a 5-2 victory over the Nashville Predators, who have now dropped five straight.

Robert Lang ( 700K ) and Patrick Sharp each scored twice in the victory, helping the Blackhawks jump out to a 3-0 lead midway through the first period. Chicago scored on three of its first four shots.

Sharp’s first goal was his league-leading sixth shorthanded tally of the season, which came at the 10:01 mark of the first ( 700K ). In all, Chicago has already scored 11 shorthanded goals.

''It's just attacking, being aggressive,'' Sharp said. ''If we're passive, standing around, that allows their skill players to deal the puck and make plays. We knew it was a big game for us.”

Dustin Byfuglien also scored for Chicago ( 700K ), which also received three assists from Martin Havlat. Nikolai Khabibulin made 19 saves for the Blackhawks.

"Havlat did the hard part, and I did the easy part," said Lang. "Marty set up both of my goals behind the net and it was sort of bang-bang. It's not just about scoring goals, it’s about winning."

Nashville could surely use a win right about now. The Predators, who got power play goals from J.P. Dumont ( 700K ) and Radek Bonk ( 700K ), have lost seven of their last nine games and have scored just seven times during their five-game skid. Goaltender Chris Mason was pulled after allowing tallies on the first two shots he faced.

''I wanted to get everyone's attention,'' Nashville coach Barry Trotz said of the move to Dan Ellis, who stopped 25 of 28 shots. ''With it being 2-0 that early in the game, it didn't want to see it get out of hand.”

But Lang gave the Blackhawks a 4-0 lead just 3:15 into the second period ( 700K ). Dumont and Bonk cut the deficit in half less than three minutes later, but Chicago regrouped and pulled away as Sharp potted his second of the night with 1:05 left in the second ( 700K ).

“It’s a big boost,” Chicago coach Denis Savard said. “Our best players tonight were outstanding. I looked down our bench, and everybody was going. It’s a credit to our guys. We battled.”

Nashville will look for its first win since Dec. 8 when it hosts the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night.

"We try not to blame anyone, but we need to come together and play within the system," Dumont said. "We can't get down on ourselves. We need to show up at the rink tomorrow. We have big games coming up and we need a new start. Everyone needs to play like it's the first game of the season and play in the system."

Chicago knows exactly what the Predators are going through. Wednesday’s win improved the Blackhawks to just 2-6 in December.

“We learned a lesson there: That losses can pile up quickly,” Sharp said. “I thought we played three sound periods of hockey.''

Red Wings 6, Kings 2 | Video
In a battle between the hottest and coldest, the latter evaporated.

Henrik Zetterberg and Dan Cleary each had a goal and an assist, and Niklas Kronwall had four helpers as Detroit handed Los Angeles its fifth straight loss in a blowout at Joe Louis Arena.

The Red Wings (25-6-3) have won 10 of their last 11 games and moved 19 points ahead of St. Louis and Columbus in the Central Division. They tied a franchise record by notching their 25th win in just their 34th game of the season – a feat Detroit also accomplished in the 1995-96 campaign.

"We controlled the game in every area," Cleary said.

Indeed the Red Wings did, as they managed to turn a 2-2 game into a blowout. After Patrick O’Sullivan tied the game 15 seconds into the second period ( 700K ), Detroit responded with four answered goals.

Tomas Holmstrom broke a 2-2 tie with his 17th goal of the season at the 3:35 mark of the second period ( 700K ). Cleary later scored on the power play when he tipped in Kronwall’s shot from the point at 8:15 ( 700K ). It was Cleary’s 11th goal of the season.

"I just kind of got the lucky bounces," said Kronwall, who enjoyed a career night with his four points. "And our forwards were able to do a good job with the rebounds. So it was just one of those nights."

Just one of those nights – a recurring theme for the free-falling Kings, who possess a league-low 26 points this season. They immediately got off on the wrong foot, as Michael Cammalleri’s holding penalty 22 seconds into the game lead to Zetterberg’s power play tally ( 700K ), which came just 37 seconds later as Detroit held an early 1-0 lead. Jiri Hudler scored at even strength at 7:37 ( 700K ) to put the Wings up by a pair less than midway through the opening period.

"The first minute of the game we got a penalty and it went from there," Los Angeles netminder Jason LaBarbera said.

Ducks 2, Avalanche 1, OT | Video
Leave it to Anaheim’s defensemen to provide the offense.

Chris Pronger erased a 1-0 deficit early in the third period, and Mathieu Schneider beat Peter Budaj with 1:29 remaining in overtime to lift the defending champs to a gritty win over Colorado.

Anaheim's Chris Kunitz celebrates Mathieu Schneider's goal in the overtime.

Avalanche coach Joel Quenneville was proud of the way his team played, considering it was playing without both Ryan Smyth and Joe Sakic. Smyth missed his first game of the season due to a stiff neck, while Sakic has been absent now for 10 straight games due to a groin injury.

“We did what we had to do to find a way to get a point,” Quenneville said. “We worked hard. They left it out there tonight, which was good.”

Scott Niedermayer’s return has clearly bolstered the Ducks’ blue line, as Colorado was held to just 12 shots on the night. Cody McCormick provided the Avalanche’s lone goal, which came at the 8:33 mark of the second period ( 700K ). It was his first goal of the season.

Pronger’s willingness to drive to the net paid dividends for the Ducks at the 3:15 mark of the third period ( 700K ), when he backhanded a rebound past Budaj for his sixth goal of the season to make it 1-1. Budaj had made an initial save on a long wrist shot from Todd Marchant, but Pronger’s attempt went off the goaltender’s skate and into the net.

The Ducks had a glorious opportunity late in the third period, when McCormick went off with 22.2 seconds to play after his clearing attempt went over the glass. Even with the 4-on-3 advantage in overtime, Anaheim failed to capitalize on the power play.

But Schneider didn’t fail when he got his chance, as he finished off a 2-on-1 with Chris Kunitz by roofing a gorgeous wrist shot over Budaj’s glove ( 700K ). It was Schneider’s fifth goal of the season.

“He stood on his head all night,” Schneider said of Budaj. “It should have been a four- or five-goal game.”

Material from wire services and team and broadcast media were used in this report.

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