ATLANTA – Nikolai Khabibulin made it clear again that he’s the Chicago Blackhawks’ No. 1 goalie ahead of Cristobal Huet.
“He put on a show tonight,” coach Joel Quenneville said after Khabibulin made 36 saves in Chicago’s 3-1 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers on Wednesday night. “He was spectacular and the reason we won.” Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews scored power-play goals for Chicago.
“We weren’t our best, but at the same time he was,” Quenneville said. “You need those type of games. We’ve had a few this year.”
With an NHL-worst 20 points at Philips Arena, the Thrashers lost their fourth straight at home and failed to win for the 16th time their last 20 games in Atlanta.
Coming off a 7-3 loss Saturday night in Vancouver, Chicago increased its road points total to 35 – fourth-best in the NHL.
Dave Bolland added an empty-net goal. Ilya Kovalchuk scored for Atlanta.
Sharp scored his 23rd goal, and eighth on the power play, at 14:06 of the second period, beating Kari Lehtonen with a wrist shot over the glove-side shoulder.
“I liked the way we opened up the game in the second period,” Sharp said. “We hadn’t played these guys for a long time. Both teams tried to feel the other one out early.”
Atlanta tied it on Kovalchuk’s slap shot with 1:55 left in the second. The goal, Kovalchuk’s 24th, was the 100th of his career on the power play.
Just 21 seconds later, Toews was just outside the crease when Patrick Kane’s slap shot from the right circle bounced off Lehtonen. Toews, who also scored the deciding goal in a win Jan. 31 at San Jose, tapped in the puck on the power play.
“It felt like a slow game,” Toews said. “Every time I tried to make a play, it was going against the grain. The puck was bouncing.”
Kovalchuk had a chance to tie it in the final second of the second. He hit the right goal post on a breakaway before his wrister from the right boards beat Khabibulin, but crossed the goal line two-tenths of a second too late.
Khabibulin improved to 17-5-5. He did not face a shot on goal despite the Thrashers’ two-man advantage following Sharp’s hooking penalty and Lehtonen’s departure to the bench in the final 1:17.
“That was unacceptable,” Sharp said of his penalty. “But we got good penalty killing.”
One night after stopping 40 of 41 shots in a 3-1 win at Tampa Bay, Lehtonen 25 saves. He’s 10-17-2.
“He has played two unbelievable games,” Kovalchuk said. “When our goalie plays well, we always have a chance to win the game. He did it two nights in a row, but we didn’t help him tonight.”
If Quenneville sticks to his rotation of starting Khabibulin one game and Huet the next, Huet will be in net Friday night at St. Louis, where Chicago will end an eight-game trip, the NHL’s longest trip this season.
The Blackhawks, 5-2 since dropping two straight at home, have gotten a 13-9-3 record and 2.41 goals-against average from Huet.
Eventually, however, Quenneville wants one of them to beat out the other.
“Goalies have stolen some games for us this year,” Quenneville said. “You don’t count on those, but sometimes you need them.”
Notes: The Blackhawks visited Atlanta for the first time since winning a shootout on Oct. 11, 2005. Chicago is 4-2 at Philips Arena. … Thrashers D Ron Hainsey, signed as a free agent from Columbus last summer partly because he moved well with the puck, has no goals in his last 32 games and just five this season. The 13th overall draft pick for Montreal in 2000, Hainsey, now minus-16, hasn’t missed a game in his first season with Atlanta.