CALGARY - It should come as no surprise that it was the Calgary Flames who Nikolai Khabibulin defeated to end his personal 10-game losing streak.
The Chicago goaltender continued his mastery over the Flames on Thursday night, making 26 saves to lead the Blackhawks to a 3-1 win. Khabibulin improved to 19-5-2 career against the Flames with a 2.09 goals-against average. It's his highest win total against any NHL opponent, and he was also Tampa Bay's goalie in 2004 when the Lightning defeated the Flames in the Stanley Cup final.
"It's a fun building to play in, I'll always remember 2004," said the 35-year-old, who improves to 16-18-4 with the win. "The atmosphere is so great here.
"It's obviously nice to win, it hasn't happened in a while. I thought I played some good games during the losing streak, probably could have won the game before this one but, it didn't happen."
Duncan Keith, Patrick Sharp, and Yanic Perreault, with an empty-netter, scored for Chicago (24-25-5).
Adrian Aucoin replied for Calgary (27-20-8).
Khabibulin was busiest in the third period, when the Flames outshot Chicago 12-6 but could not get the tying goal.
As Calgary pressed relentlessly in the final 10 minutes in particular, Alex Tanguay, Daymond Langkow, and Kristian Huselius were all thwarted on dangerous chances.
"Tonight, it seemed like we were fighting the puck," said Tanguay. "We were giving the puck away, we were putting the pucks in bad areas and that's just mental sharpness. Everybody's responsible to be accountable before the game and be ready and tonight we were ready for some shifts, and not ready for others. It ended up costing us."
With four minutes left, Jarome Iginla nearly steered in the tying goal on a scramble in the goal crease but Khabibulin stuck out his arm and swept the puck off the goal-line just in time.
"He was great, that's why he's our starter and our go-to guy," said Sharp. "They have great shooters and great players on their side and they could have easily tied the game there late in the third period. Without Nik, it's a different story."
The Blackhawks picked up their first win on a season-long seven-game road trip (1-2-1), but remain nine points back of a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
"The way the standings are in the league today, if you can string a few wins together you're right back in the middle of things," said Sharp. "We feel we have a team that can win and hopefully this can be the kickstart to a winning streak."
Calgary finds themselves tied for seventh place in the West, just one point up on the Vancouver Canucks and two points on Phoenix.
"Look at the standings, enough said," pointed out Flames coach Mike Keenan when asked about his teams' chronic slow starts - not having scored a first-period goal in the last six games.
"Enough said. I'm not being flippant or smart. It's pretty self-explanatory. We're in eighth place, one point in the playoffs and we've played below .500 since we got back from the break. I don't know what more motivation you need."
After a scoreless first period, Chicago outshot the Flames 14-5 in the second in taking a 2-1 lead.
The Blackhawks opened the scoring at 7:14 of the second when Keith took a pass from Robert Lang and fired a 40-foot slapshot that beat Miikka Kiprusoff between the legs.
The lead lasted only four minutes before Aucoin answered back on a slapshot of his own from a similar distance.
Sharp broke a 1-1 tie at 15:07 with his 25th of the season. It was another long slapshot, this one set up by Martin Havlat.
"I'm proud of our guys, we have lots of life left," said Chicago coach Denis Savard. "I know we've been through a tough little skid here, but at the end of the day, the way we played tonight, we keep playing like that and we're going to be successful a lot of nights."
Notes: Chicago rookie Jonathan Toews (knee) missed his 16th game. The Blackhawks are 5-9-2 without him. . . . Tanguay has no goals in his 11 games but does have nine assists. . . . Chicago won just its second game in regulation in 18 games since Dec. 26. They are 5-10-3 in that span with the other victories coming in shootouts. . . . Aucoin's interference penalty at 19:29 of the first period ended a 86:49 stretch in which Calgary had not played shorthanded.