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Hossa returns, Turco stars in Hawks' fourth straight

by Brian Hedger /
CHICAGO -- Marty Turco looked more relieved than anything.

The veteran goalie got just his fourth start in the last 15 games on Sunday night and led the Chicago Blackhawks to a 4-1 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets in front of 21,492 at the United Center.

The win was the fourth in a row for the Blackhawks (20-14-3) and the first for Turco (9-8-2) since a Nov. 17 shutout against Edmonton. It also broke a personal three-game losing streak that saw Turco's goals-against average shoot up to 3.06 for the season.

"It feels good, period," Turco said. "I just had ‘Operation: Turn Off the Brain,' go out there and play, and then assess it later. There's not much more to it than that, but it's been awhile since I've had this feeling."

Hawks rookie goalie Corey Crawford took over as the starter in the past month, which caused the struggling Turco to wait patiently for another chance to prove himself. Chicago signed Turco as a free agent last summer after letting Stanley Cup-winning goalie Antti Niemi depart via free agency.

That's one of the reasons it looked like a weight had been removed from Turco's shoulders after downing the Blue Jackets (17-15-3) -- who've now dropped four of their last five games in regulation.

"The weight really stems from how I've been playing," Turco said. "Moving. Reading the play and pucks. There's just nothing like getting into the game and getting the excitement of the game to an awareness level that's just hard to replicate in practice. That was certainly a help, to have the anxiousness that comes with my position and what's been happening, to just get out there."

Patrick Sharp led the offensive attack for the Hawks, who improved to 8-2-0 in their last 10 home games. Sharp scored two third-period goals, while teammates Tomas Kopecky and Dave Bolland also scored. Troy Brouwer and Marian Hossa each added a pair of assists for Chicago, which had Hossa back on the ice for the first time in 10 games.

Hossa looked like he did during a hot start to the season, before suffering two injuries that have kept him out a total of 15 games. Aside from his timing, he said everything felt good in his first game back -- though he stopped short of calling himself 100 percent healthy.

"Let's put it this way, if I wasn't good enough I wouldn't be playing," said Hossa, who was named the No. 1 star of the game. "I felt pretty good out there tonight. I could go in one-on-one battles because I wasn't thinking about it. A week ago, I wasn't ready for it. Tonight, I was ready to go."

Derick Brassard scored the lone goal for Columbus late in the third for the final margin. The Blue Jackets are now just 3-9-3 in their last 15 games, but coach Scott Arniel saw enough positives in this game to take away from it.

Columbus actually outshot the Hawks 21-17 after the first two periods despite trailing 1-0 and wound up outshooting Chicago 27-25 for the game. The Jackets just couldn't get one past Turco when it was still close. Sharp's first goal 1:22 into the third made it 2-0 and the Hawks rolled from there.

"I thought we did lots of good things," Arniel said. "I thought we should have been rewarded in the first and even the second. But you can't just be close in this League. When it's a 1-0 game we need to find a way to get it evened up when they give us opportunities and we didn't."

Sharp's two markers brought him up to 20 goals for the season, which ranks him third in the NHL in that category. He didn't score his 20th goal last season until March 10 and leads the Hawks with 36 points in 36 games.

That first one on Sunday came just six seconds into a power play, while the second made it 4-0 about 10 minutes later. Brouwer, who was behind the net, fed Sharp in the right circle for the second one and he beat Columbus goalie Mathieu Garon.

"It's nice to score, especially in a win, but count the numbers at the end of the season," Sharp said. "If you sit back and start worrying about how many goals you have or how many points you have, that's when the puck's not going to go in for you."

Kopecky opened the scoring seven minutes into the game by potting a rebound from the low slot. Garon made a save on a wraparound attempt by Hossa and the puck went right to Kopecky for the putback. It was the third goal and sixth point in the past 10 games for Kopecky, who played center instead of the wing.

Once again, Kopecky got a boost by having his Slovakian countryman back on the ice. This was the 21st game he and Hossa played together this season and in those games Kopecky now has 2 goals and 10 points.

Another Hawks forward also had a memorable evening, but for a different reason. Jack Skille was granted a penalty shot with 3:16 left in the second after he was pulled down on a breakaway, but Garon stonewalled his backhand attempt to keep it 1-0.

It was the first penalty shot of Skille's career, but he also had a chance to create a first for the United Center. The last Blackhawks player to convert a penalty shot in Chicago was Troy Murray, who did it against the Minnesota North Stars on Dec. 30, 1987 in the old Chicago Stadium.

No Blackhawks player has ever scored on a penalty shot at the United Center.

"I wish I'd known that," Skille said, smiling. "I'd maybe like to have that one back and maybe gone blocker side, but you know I'll probably be dreaming about that one later. The only thing I was kicking around in my head was the fact (Garon) was a right-handed goaltender. That was just a lot different and probably why I should have gone the other way."
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