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Blackhawks look to get back on track vs. Islanders

By Justin Einhorn

Stats Senior Editor

NY Islanders (23-38-8) at Chicago (37-20-9), 3:00 pm EDT

CHICAGO (Ticker) -- The Chicago Blackhawks haven't looked very

ready recently with the way they're starting games, let alone

ready for a return to the postseason.

The stumbling Blackhawks would like to avoid another poor

opening period Sunday afternoon and close a four-game homestand

on a positive note by beating the league-worst New York

Islanders.

It appeared Chicago (37-20-9) was cruising toward its first

playoff berth since 2002 after an 8-2-0 stretch into late

February put the team comfortably in fourth place in the Western

Conference. That's where the Blackhawks remain, so it appears

likely their postseason drought will end, but they have not been

performing at a playoff-caliber level with losses in six of

their last nine.

Bad starts have been a major concern lately. Chicago's only win

in its last four games came in a shootout and it has trailed

after the first period in each, getting outscored 6-0.

"We've got to start harder and play a complete game," center

Jonathan Toews told the team's official Web site.

The Blackhawks have held the lead for less than 15 of their last

245 minutes played.

Chicago fell behind 2-0 after the first 11:02 against Columbus

on Friday night en route to a 5-3 defeat.

"We had a good finish, but to be successful in this league you

have to have a good start," defenseman Brent Seabrook said. "Any

time you give up two goals early and don't respond in the first

period, it's pretty tough to come back in this league."

Seabrook ended a 23-game goal drought, Kris Versteeg scored for

the third time in four games and Patrick Kane netted one to

raise his team-leading point total to 60.

Chicago allowed five goals for the fifth time in eight games, a

trend which may lead coach Joel Quenneville to stick Nikolai

Khabibulin back in net. He hasn't played since aggravating a

groin injury Feb. 11, but was activated from injured reserve

Wednesday and served as Cristobal Huet's backup Friday.

Huet, who has started 12 of Chicago's last 14 games, is 2-4-0

with a 3.45 goals-against average in his last seven starts.

Khabibulin is 17-5-5 with a 2.37 GAA on the season, though he

hasn't faced the Islanders since 2004.

New York (23-38-8) has been getting solid goaltending lately

from Yann Danis, who is 5-3-0 with a 1.64 GAA and two shutouts

in his last eight starts. However, he continues to split time

with Joey MacDonald, who has three wins in his last 23 starts.

Islanders coach Scott Gordon could put MacDonald back in net

Sunday to avoid playing Danis on back-to-back days. Danis played

a 3-2 overtime win at Montreal on Thursday before making 23

saves in a 2-1 loss to East-leading Boston on Saturday

afternoon.

It was another encouraging performance as far as Gordon was

concerned, considering it came against the team tied for the

league's best record. New York has a league-low 54 points, but

12 have come in its last nine games.

"It's been great. Our guys have really come together. They're

playing hard for each other," Gordon said. "They're supportive

on the ice and off the ice and in the room. It's something we've

been striving for in the second half, and it's been consistent."

New York has won the last four meetings with Chicago, but the

teams haven't played since Oct. 31, 2006.

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