VANCOUVER (CP) - Patrick Lalime is back with a vengeance.
After a long rehabilitation from back surgery in September, Lalime returned to the NHL with a solid 34-save effort Wednesday night to help the Chicago Blackhawks blank the Vancouver Canucks 3-0. "I think I've still got a lot of good hockey left and I just want to enjoy it and build on it," the 32-year-old Lalime said after earning his 34th career shutout and first win in goal for Chicago.
The former Senator, who had season victory totals of 36, 27, 39 and 25 since the 2000-01 season with Ottawa but struggled in the playoffs, needed the surgery to repair a herniated disc.
The injury came just before training camp. Lalime had a rough 2005-06 regular season with St. Louis before signing last summer as a free agent.
"Those were bumps in the road and not much you can do for it, but I stayed positive through it," Lalime said.
Getting the shutout when his club was outshot 34-23 made it all the sweeter.
"It's always something you hope for but I never thought about that. I just wanted to go and do my best and give my team a chance to win."
Adrian Aucoin gave the Blackhawks the only goal Lalime would need late in the second period when his shot from the point bounced over Vancouver netminder Roberto Luongo after hitting defender Kevin Bieksa's stick.
Luongo had been flopping around in his crease trying to control a loose puck and was flat on his back at the time.
Defenceman Willie Mitchell cleared the puck but it went right back to Aucoin.
Martin Havlat, with his 20th goal of the season, and fifth in five games, and Radim Vrbata scored into an empty net in the final minute.
"He was great," said Havlat, who scored 14 of his goals on the road, about Lalime. "He didn't play a game for almost a year and we wanted to help him get the win and I think we played our best game defensively in the whole year."
Lalime survived a rocky start when the first shot on goal took a couple of strange bounces.
"It was coming, it was coming," he said of Vancouver's first scoring attempt. "I was going to go down and I saw it bounce. I stood up and it was like a pinball. It hit two, three four guys."
Another bouncing puck went off his shoulder before being cleared by the Blackhawk defence, as Chicago improved to 21-26-7 with a fourth win in five games that kept playoff hopes flickering.
"It's a tough thing to do when you've been out a long time but he made the sacrifice," Blackhawk coach Denis Savard said of Lalime. "He went down to (AHL) Norfolk, played a couple of games (on a conditioning assignment) and worked hard in practices."
Havlat said eliminating mistakes has been a key to the Chicago turnaround after a 10-game losing streak.
"We're trying to do everything the way we should and tonight we didn't do any major mistakes and we tried to get the win for Patty."
Chicago which last beat Vancouver on March 19, 2004, ended a six-game losing streak against the Canucks and also denied Vancouver first place in the Northwest Division.
The Canucks (30-21-4), who were foiled on all five of their power plays, remained a point behind the idle Calgary Flames, who have two games in hand.
"We addressed it before the game that we can't overlook these guys," Vancouver centre Brendan Morrison said of Chicago. "They're coming off a big win against Calgary (Tuesday), they've been working hard lately, they haven't been giving up much.
"It was a tight game right to the end, but we just didn't do enough."
It was the third time in five games that the Canucks had lost to teams using goalies far down their depth chart.
"They're all tough," said Luongo. "We dropped Columbus, L.A. and Chicago at home in the last couple of weeks.
"It's inexcusable to lose against those three teams, especially all three of them."
Hawks GM Dale Tallon has said he is looking to trade one of the goalies playing behind Nikolai Khabibulin - Lalime or Brian Boucher - but that didn't faze Lalime.
"My focus is on the ice and the business part is up to those guys," he said. "We'll see what happens."
NOTES: Alexander Edler returned to the Canuck blue-line, replacing Lukas Krajicek who was knocked out of Tuesday's win over Edmonton by Zack Stortini'S heavy hit ... Bieksa pummelled Karl Stewart of the Blackhawks in a third-period scrap ... Chicago called up forwards Craig MacDonald and Pierre Parenteau from Norfolk and placed Michael Holmqvist (back) and Jeff Hamilton (shoulder) on injured reserve ... the Blackhawks have two games left on their season-high seven-game road trip before facing the Canucks again at the United Center on Feb. 16.