Nikolai Khabibulin makes 38 saves to help Blackhawks beat Blues 4-1

Nikolai Khabibulin made 38 saves and the Blackhawks erased a third-period deficit with a three-goal outburst en route to a 4-1 victory Tuesday night. Last month, Chicago spoiled Murray’s debut in St. Louis with three third-period goals in a 3-2 victory. “Eerily similar,” Murray said. “It’s frustrating to lose like that.”

Manny Legace hadn’t allowed a goal in 127 minutes 12 seconds and appeared headed for his second consecutive shutout before the Blackhawks scored three times on six shots in a span of 3:23 to erase a 1-0 deficit.

The way Khabibulin was playing, the lead was safe.

“He is the difference every night,” said forward Martin Havlat, whose goal began the comeback. “He keeps us in the game.”

Keith Tkachuk scored for the third straight game for the Blues, who had been 5-0-3 since their last loss Dec. 13 at Colorado – the franchise’s longest run since going 9-0-1 in 2003. St. Louis finished last overall in the NHL last season and had been in the cellar again before going 5-3-3 under Murray.

The Blackhawks have won four straight over St. Louis for the first time since 1982-83. The Blues get another chance against them Thursday in St. Louis.

“We need to learn how to beat them,” Murray said. “They’ve figured out how to beat us the last couple of games.”

Peter Bondra and Jeff Hamilton also scored in the rally that erased the Blues’ 1-0 lead, and Martin Lapointe added an empty-net goal. The Blackhawks are 4-2 against the Blues.

One consolation for the Blues: They haven’t allowed a first-period goal in 11 games under Murray, one shy of the NHL record set by the Los Angeles Kings in 1974.

Legace was 5-0-1 with a 1.46 goals-against average in his previous six games, and he stopped the Blackhawks for two periods. His run ended at 6:15 of the third when Radim Vrbata stole Dennis Wideman’s clearing effort behind the net and fed it in front to Havlat.

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Fifty-nine seconds later, Bondra scored his third goal on the rebound of a backhander by Denis Arkhipov. Hamilton scored his 11th at 9:38 when he skated around the net and beat Legace from the left circle.

“Most of the game we gave up very few scoring chances,” Murray said. “It doesn’t matter, they got enough to win.”

LaPointe added an empty-net goal with 44 seconds to go.

St. Louis got four power plays in the first 9:42, twice gaining a two-man advantage, before breaking through on its third 5-on-3. Tkachuk scored his 11th goal, and third in three games, off Lee Stempniak’s pass from behind the net after a timeout.

The Blues took the game’s first 12 shots until Legace stopped Tony Salmelainen on a partial short-handed breakaway at 10:22. St. Louis outshot Chicago 16-5 in the first period.

“You need great goaltending when you’re in the box,” Blackhawks coach Denis Savard said. “We have to learn.”

Or lean on Khabibulin.

“He was standing on his head left, right and centre,” Legace said. “He had a great game and we couldn’t buy a goal.”

Notes: Blackhawks D Lasse Kukkonen drew consecutive penalties for holding and hooking early in the first period and got a third call for holding in the second period. Entering the game he had 20 penalty minutes in 36 games . . . The Blues have scored the first goal in 10 of 11 games under Murray . . . Vrbata has four goals and four assists in six games against the Blues.