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Khabibulin makes 28 saves as Blackhawks defeat Avalanche 2-1

The Canadian Press
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The Hockey News
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Khabibulin makes 28 saves as Blackhawks defeat Avalanche 2-1

The Canadian Press
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Back in the lineup after missing 11 games because of a groin injury, Aucoin scored a power-play goal with 7:02 left in the second period to help the Blackhawks beat the Colorado Avalanche 2-1 on Sunday night.

Aucoin blasted a rising, screened shot past Jose Theodore to snap a 1-1 tie. It was a rare power-play score for Chicago, which entered the game with the NHL's third-worst conversion rate, 12.1 per cent.

"It's been a little bit of frustration," Aucoin said. "I haven't played in a while.

"The groin thing is probably a maintenance thing the rest of my career. There was probably a little bit of hesitation early, but I felt good as the game went a long."

Although Aucoin hadn't played in four weeks, Chicago coach Denis Savard wasn't surprised the captain connected Sunday.

"He has one of the best shots in the NHL," Savard said. "It's one of his strengths. It was a good comeback game for him."

Chicago goalie Nikolai Khabibulin made the lead stand up. He made 28 saves, including several close-in stops late in the third period, as the Blackhawks won their second straight game and fourth in their last five.

Khabibulin has played 10 of 11 games since Savard replaced Trent Yawney on Nov. 27. The Blackhawks are 7-1-3 during that span.

"I think it's easier when you play more," Khabibulin said. "It's easier to come out and just worry about playing."

"He's a competitor," Savard said. "He didn't win the Stanley Cup for no reason. In Tampa Bay (in 2004) he was the difference. He just battles and battles and battles."

Tuomo Ruutu also scored for Chicago.

Brett McLean had the lone goal for the Avalanche, whose three-game winning streak was snapped. Colorado's Jose Theodore made 23 saves.

"We had won three in a row and wanted to keep it going," said Colorado's Milan Hejduk, who was stopped point blank by Khabibulin late in the game. "It was very frustrating."

The Avalanche had hoped to win to set up an early season battle for first place in the Northwest Division when they play at Edmonton on Tuesday night.

"We're going to Edmonton," Colorado coach Joel Quenneville said. "We'll see if it's a first place game or not."

Ruutu scored with 5:12 left in the first period, scoring his fourth goal in five games. Ruutu beat Theodore from 15 feet out in the slot after Martin Havlat's centring pass from behind the net deflected to him off the skate of Colorado's Tyler Arnason.

Theodore stopped Chicago's Jeff Hamilton on a breakaway just under two minutes into the second period.

McLean tied it at 6:13 of the second on a goalmouth deflection. With a delayed penalty coming up against Chicago, McLean redirected Arnason's shot from the right boards upward and over Khabibulin's shoulder.

Khabibulin made a point-blank pad save on Hejduk with just under six minutes left in the third to preserve the 2-1 lead. He also stopped several other chances in the final minute after Theodore had been pulled for an extra attacker.

Notes: Blackhawks D Brent Seabrook missed the game because of a sore back. LW Rene Bourque was a healthy scratch. . . . Colorado RW Brad Richardson sat out with an elbow injury. LW Antti Laaksonen was a healthy scratch. .. . The Avalanche's Marek Svatos returned to the lineup after missing Friday's game against Edmonton because of a groin injury. . . . The Avalanche said Sunday they will move their AHL affiliate from Albany, N.Y., to a new franchise in Cleveland, effective next season.

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Khabibulin makes 28 saves as Blackhawks defeat Avalanche 2-1