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Hawks start "Circus Trip" with 7-1 win at Calgary

by Todd Kimberley /

CALGARY -- The Chicago Blackhawks opened up their annual "Circus Trip" with a real laugher.

The Hawks got four goals from their power play, a two-goal night from Kris Versteeg, and sharp goaltending from Cristobal Huet on Thursday as they pounded the Calgary Flames 7-1 before a stunned crowd of 19,289 at the Pengrowth Saddledome.

It was the fifth straight win for the Central Division-leading Blackhawks (13-5-2), whose circus trip -- an annual occurrence caused when the circus takes over the UnitedCenter every November -- will continue with five more games in Western Canada and California.

A blowout win that featured a five-goal second period was a great way to begin two weeks on the road.

"We wanted to play a perfect road game and play a defense-first mentality," said Chicago forward Patrick Kane, who celebrated his 21st birthday with a goal and an assist, both on the power play and just 36 seconds apart.

"We took it to them. Our power play was huge tonight, and that probably won us the game. And (Huet) played unreal, too."

Thursday's victory perpetuates the Blackhawks' recent mastery of the Flames. They've won six consecutive regular-season games at the Saddledome and defeated the Flames in a first-round playoff series last spring -- including the clincher in Calgary.

It was the Hawks' first visit to the Saddledome since that April night -- and the first meeting between the two clubs since Oct. 12, when the Flames built up a 5-0 lead after 12 minutes, only to see the Hawks rally for a 6-5 overtime win that matched the biggest comeback in NHL history.

"It's tough to say," offered Chicago forward Patrick Sharp, regarding his club's dominance of the Flames. "We've got a lot of guys from Western Canada, and it feels like they're coming back home playing in front of family and friends. Maybe that has something to do with it. I don't know.

"But the Flames are a good team. This was an uncharacteristic game," added Sharp, one of six 'Hawks who had at least two points. "I don't think you can read too much into it. It's just one of those games where the pucks were going into the net."

The Flames (12-6-2), who've dropped two straight, fell to an extremely ordinary 6-5-0 at the Saddledome, where they've been dominant in recent years. Calgary remained three points back of the Colorado Avalanche for top spot in the Northwest Division.

Coach Brent Sutter figured the turning point in the game came 52 seconds into the middle frame, when Flames forward Nigel Dawes stepped in and roughed up Chicago defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, who had delivered a clean, devastating hit to the Flames' Rene Bourque along the boards in the neutral zone -- earning a two-minute penalty.

The Flames had just tied the game 1-1 at 15 seconds into the period when Olli Jokinen snapped home a power-play shot that ended a personal eight-game goal drought. But with Dawes in the box, the Hawks took the lead for good when Versteeg tipped home a point shot by Brent Seabrook at 2:01.

From there, Dustin Byfuglien went short side on a 2-on-1 with Sharp, Andrew Ladd made no mistake on a breakaway set up by Duncan Keith, and Kane and Versteeg scored on the power play late in the period to turn the game into a rout.

Miikka Kiprusoff, who'd faced 24 shots through the first 40 minutes, was lifted at the second intermission in favor of Curtis McElhinney, who allowed Ben Eager's first goal with 4:34 remaining to complete the scoring.

After the game, Sutter addressed a character flaw in his club that he'd pointed out earlier this season - "a huge lack of mental toughness."

"Staying with it. Dealing with adversity. Knowing how to handle that in games," said Sutter. "The game is 90 percent mental, and this team has a lot of work to do.

"This isn't something that came up all of a sudden tonight," he added. "At some point, they have to start getting a little upset with each other. Personally, I don't like that it's too casual. I'm not used to it, to be quite honest. I'm not used to a casual atmosphere.

"There needs to be a lot more emotion, throughout, to want to succeed. Get upset about stuff. Don't take it in stride: 'Oh, there's another day tomorrow.' "

The 'Hawks were effusive in their praise for Huet, who made 27 saves - highlighted by an incredible, diving trapper stop on Jay Bouwmeester, who had an apparent open net from the left circle on a power play with the score only 2-1.

"(Huet) made some big stops to get us going," defenseman Brian Campbell said. "We were on our heels to start the game."

Added Kane: "He jumped across and made that big save on Bouwmeester. That goes in, it could be a totally different game."

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