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Raanta rebounds, helps Blackhawks past Kings

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- The Los Angeles Kings watched a number of impressive streaks come crashing to a halt Sunday night at United Center.

The Chicago Blackhawks scored three times in the first period and made the early cushion hold up for a 3-1 victory against the Kings.

Los Angeles (22-8-4) had a season-high six-game winning streak snapped along with an 18-game streak of not allowing a first-period goal, a run that tied the NHL record (Ottawa Senators, 1927-28) and started Nov. 7 in a 2-0 win against the Buffalo Sabres.

"It was big [scoring early]," Blackhawks forward Kris Versteeg said. "We know that they can really sit on leads and really clamp down, so it was big to get those goals and really play into our hands."

Versteeg, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp scored for Chicago, captain Jonathan Toews added a pair of assists, and Patrick Kane pushed his personal point streak to nine games with an assist on Versteeg's goal.

More importantly for the Blackhawks (24-7-5), the win allowed them to split a weekend back-to-back set that started with a 7-3 loss Saturday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre.

"It's not always about the team we're playing against," said Toews, who won 10 of 13 faceoffs. "It's more about how we're preparing ourselves. I'd say it was a much better effort tonight, and it's nice to see that we can rebound from that. It doesn't take us long to get back to our good habits."

Rookie goalie Antti Raanta (21 saves) rebounded from a rough night against the Maple Leafs to pick up the win.

Alec Martinez scored the Kings' goal, and goalie Ben Scrivens made 37 saves in the loss.

"Well, you can't chase the lead against a team that's ... what are they, 30 or 40 goals ahead of everybody else in the League?" Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "Pretty tough to chase the lead."

His team hasn't needed to do it very much the past month. Not counting two shootout losses, the Kings' most-recent game allowing more than two goals came Nov. 2 in a 4-3 loss to the Nashville Predators. That was also the last time they'd allowed a goal in the first period.

That streak didn't last long against Chicago, which got its first goal 5:45 into the first courtesy of Toews and Hossa.

Toews beat defenseman Jake Muzzin to a puck in the Los Angeles defensive zone during a Kings power play and fed a pass from below the goal line to Hossa in front for a snap shot that beat Scrivens. It was Hossa's 14th goal and set the tone for the Blackhawks.

"[Toews] set a tempo basically," Hossa said. "He out-battled the opponent and made a great play. I was just alone in front of the net and I tried to release it really quick at the five-hole. He did all the work basically. Those little things give you momentum, and then all of a sudden, you've got an extra jump."

Versteeg made it 2-0 at 9:59 by scoring his sixth goal and fourth since coming to Chicago in a Nov. 14 trade with the Florida Panthers. Coming down the ice on a 2-on-1 rush, Versteeg kept the puck and fired it past Scrivens with a wrister from the low slot.

Sharp scored his 16th goal on a power play with 31 seconds left in the first to make it 3-0 and that was all Chicago needed.

"Definitely not the start that we wanted," Kings center Anze Kopitar said. "It's hard when you play catch-up, especially three goals. It's quite a bit to overcome against that kind of team. It's no secret that we lost the game in the first period."

Sharp's goal extended the Blackhawks' streak of games with at least one power-play goal to nine straight games.

After a pretty cross-ice feed through traffic by Toews, Sharp launched a wrist shot from the right faceoff dot that Scrivens couldn't stop. The Blackhawks finished 1-for-3 with the man advantage against L.A., and continue to have a much more potent power play than last season.

Scrivens got the start for Los Angeles over Martin Jones, who had started a back-to-back set earlier in the week and again in a 5-2 victory against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday afternoon.

Raanta was coming off a game in which he was pulled after allowing five goals in two periods against Toronto on Saturday. The Finnish rookie, filling the starting role for Chicago while Corey Crawford and Nikolai Khabibulin recover from lower-body injuries, bounced back nicely.

This time, only Martinez beat Raanta. The Kings defenseman scored with 3:54 left in the third to cut the Blackhawks' lead to 3-1. His second goal of the season sailed through traffic from above the left circle and into the top right corner of the net over Raanta's glove.

Raanta made several big saves to keep the Kings scoreless to that point and showed he wasn't rattled by the poor outing in Toronto.

"[Saturday] there were good things also, but I don't know what went wrong," Raanta said. "I just tried to forget it and come [into this game] a little bit better and keep my focus all the time on the right things. That was the main thing."

The win was also a milestone for Quenneville, who notched his 684th career victory to tie Pat Quinn for fourth all time.

"I feel fortunate to be where I'm at [now]," he said. "I've been in some real nice places with some real good players and real good organizations. I've had the privilege to coach and work with a lot of great players, when I look back to spots I've been at. I'm very happy with where I'm at and I like the group I get to work with every day."

Asked if Blackhawks senior advisor Scotty Bowman's NHL record 1,244 wins was attainable, Quenneville had a two-word response.

"No chance," he said.

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