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Hawks' Niemi makes 22 saves, wins 1st NHL start in 4-2 victory over Kings

CHICAGO - A fast start helped the Chicago Blackhawks put a timely end to a mini-slump.

Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Dustin Byfuglien scored in the first period, and Antti Niemi made 22 saves in his first NHL start to give the Blackhawks a 4-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Sunday.

Dave Bolland added a power-play goal with 43 seconds left in the third as the Blackhawks snapped an 0-2-1 skid and defeated the Kings for the first time in three games this season. Chicago was beaten 5-2 twice in Los Angeles.

The Blackhawks have not gone more than three games without a win this season and haven't dropped more than two straight in regulation. That's been a key to Chicago's resurgence and why the Blackhawks are solidly in fourth place in the Western Conference.

"When you lose three in a row, it gets your attention," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "A good start was something we were looking for, and getting that lead early helped."

The Blackhawks jumped ahead 2-0 and 3-1 in the first before the Kings closed to 3-2 after 20 minutes.

"It was a big win," Toews said. "In a lot of ways we played the same way we played as the last couple of games, but we were able to put three periods together and finish it off.

"We've found a lot of great ways to win games like this year when we've had losing streaks."

Anze Kopitar scored and added an assist on Jack Johnson's goal in the third consecutive loss for the fading Kings. Los Angeles, playing the fourth game of a five-game trip, entered six points behind eighth-place Anaheim and the post-season cutoff in the Western Conference.

The Kings, who opened the trip with a 2-1 shootout win at Minnesota, are in a 1-5 skid.

"We kind of shot ourselves in the foot," Kopitar said. "That first period wasn't good at all. When you fall behind right away, it kind of kills the motivation right off the hop."

"We responded just OK," Kings coach Terry Murray said. "There's a great need to a lot of desperation right now in our schedule and our games. Getting down makes it really hard, especially in this building.

"They're (the Blackhawks) a great skating team. They could be a dangerous team in the playoffs."

Toews has nine goals and four assists in his last eight games, and has taken over the team lead with 26 goals. He scored 24 goals in 64 games last season as a rookie.

"Besides the production, he's been very effective for us," Quenneville said. "He's a special player and going to continue to improve his game."

Niemi made his NHL debut on Friday, when he relieved Cristobal Huet to start the third period of an overtime loss to Pittsburgh.

Niemi got this start following eight straight by Huet. Nikolai Khabibulin, who usually alternates with Huet, is on injured reserve.

"I was nervous, but not too bad," Niemi said. "I was able to feel pretty good and nervous at the same time."

Jonathan Quick made 34 saves for the Kings.

Toews gave Chicago a 1-0 lead just 47 seconds in on a deflection of Matt Walker's shot from the right point.

Keith made it 2-0 at 6:18. After picking off Sean O'Donnell's pass, Keith fired from the left point. Quick stopped the puck, but leaned back and knocked it into the net from underneath him.

Johnson's power-play goal, on a screened drive from the right point, cut it to 2-1 at 8:22. Byfuglien made it 3-1 with 3:38 left in the first.

Kopitar's goal, with 41 seconds left in the period, withstood a video review and narrowed the Kings' deficit to 3-2.

Niemi got a piece of Teddy Purcell's initial shot, then Kopitar swept the loose puck across the goal-line as the net was knocked off its moorings. The goal stood because Kopitar was shoved into the post by Chicago's Martin Havlat.

Niemi made a handful of tough saves in the scoreless second and through the third as the Blackhawks held on for the win.

Bolland's power-play goal from the edge of the crease completed the scoring.

Notes: Khabibulin's return date isn't known and has already been pushed back several times. ... Chicago RW Patrick Sharp missed his seventh game due to a left knee injury. ... The Kings activated D Tom Preissing, after he missed 22 games because of an undisclosed upper-body injury, but he didn't play against Chicago. Los Angeles placed LW Raitis Ivanans (upper body) on the injured list.



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