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Blackhawks escape division basement with 5-4 win over Blue Jackets

Havlat had a goal and two assists and the Blackhawks scored three times in the opening period and then held off the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-4 on Sunday.

"I feel I'm playing the best hockey I've ever played, for sure," said Havlat, acquired along with Bryan Smolinski from Ottawa in a blockbuster deal last summer. "That's my goal every year - to be better than the season before."

Havlat has seven goals and three assists in a six-game goal streak.

Peter Bondra and Smolinski each had a goal and an assist and Patrick Sharp and Martin Lapointe also scored for the Blackhawks, who have won five of their last seven games.

A few Blue Jackets fans chanted "We want a re-fund!" in the third period - before their team came back with two goals to almost force overtime.

Anson Carter, Ron Hainsey and David Vyborny each had a goal and an assist and Alexander Svitov also scored for Columbus, which dropped behind the Blackhawks into last place in the Central Division. Brian Berard and Rick Nash each had two assists.

Down 5-2 with less than 11 minutes left, the Blue Jackets drew within one on Vyborny's rebound goal with 3:58 remaining. They almost tied it with just under two minutes left when goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin stopped Vyborny's shot from the high slot.

"Khabibulin played fantastic and he saved us at the end," Smolinski said.

The Blackhawks dominated at the outset. Outshooting the Blue Jackets 15-3 in the opening period, they scored three times in a span of 3:38.

"We started poorly again," Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We have some competitive issues that we have to deal with."

At the nine-minute mark, Cam Barker's slap shot from the left point glanced off Radim Vrbata in the slot and resulted in a big rebound that Sharp netted from the edge of the right circle.

Just over a minute later, Havlat passed to the back boards to Tuomo Ruutu, who saucered a centring pass that Smolinski converted for his 12th goal.

The Blackhawks, who have outscored Columbus 12-4 in the first period of their six meetings this year, made it 3-0 on their next shot. Havlat ended up with the puck at centre after a giveaway by Berard. Havlat skated past defenceman Rostislav Klesla, who hooked his right arm as he went past, and swooped in alone on goaltender Fredrik Norrena, whose new two-year contract was announced just before the game. Havlat skated to an abrupt stop at the left goal mouth and then reached back to flick the puck past the goalie.

"It was a tough game - the sixth game of a road trip," coach Denis Savard said. "There were little, wee mistakes we work on every day - we'll fix it.

"Part of it is not focusing on what we need to do in our coverage. It's going to happen. It's a young team. Tonight fatigue might have set in."

Norrena was replaced by Pascal Leclaire, who had missed the last 21 games because of knee surgery.

The Blue Jackets cut the gap to 4-2 with a pair of power-play goals.

Carter's centring pass for Nash went off his stick and to Hainsey for a one-timer with Columbus on a two-man advantage.

After Lapointe's wrister on a rush made it 4-1, Carter scored on a jam shot off Vyborny's nifty pass through the crease.

In the final period, Bondra scored off a rebound of Havlat's shot from the high slot, with Svitov answering with a wrist shot from the right dot and Vyborny closing the scoring by going high over Khabibulin's shoulder to set up the wild finish.

"I'd like to be positive, but we don't seem to learn from previous games," Khabibulin said. "As soon as we relax a little bit - we get too relaxed - they jump right on us. We can't seem to have an easy game."

Notes: Chicago evened the series with Columbus at 3-3 this season and Savard evened his record with the Blackhawks at 15-15-5 since taking over Nov. 29 . . . Leclaire was making his first appearance since Dec. 22 against Vancouver.


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