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Khabibulin made 25 saves as Blackhawks shut out Capitals 5-0

CHICAGO - On a night when the Chicago Blackhawks saluted goalie Tony Esposito, Nikolai Khabibulin came up with a performance the Hall of Famer could appreciate.

Khabibulin made 25 saves in his first start in nearly a month to earn his second shutout this season, and the Blackhawks defeated the Washington Capitals 5-0 on Wednesday night.

Esposito, the Blackhawks' career shutout leader with 74, was honoured and cheered in pre-game ceremonies. As the game wound down, the sellout crowd chanted for Khabibulin, who posted his 38th career shutout.

Khabibulin made his first start since Feb. 20, when he blanked Minnesota 3-0. Following that game, he missed 12 games with back spasms before relieving Patrick Lalime on Sunday.

"When we have a ceremony like this, it's nice to win a game," Khabibulin said. "Even better that it was Tony and even better that it was a shutout.

"The guys in front of me did a good job," he added. "When (NHL scoring leader Alexander) Ovechkin is on the ice, obviously he's a force out there. Usually he has five, six, seven shots and tonight he only had two."

Khabibulin wasn't heavily tested, but made a handful of tough stops.

He made a point-blank pad save on Sergei Fedorov in the final seconds of the first period and a glove save on a rebound by Brooks Laich midway through the third.

Khabibulin made a spectacular diving glove save on Alexander Semin with just under three minutes left in the third.

"That was a big save, one of the best I've seen all year," Chicago rookie Patrick Kane said.

"It was a great performance by Habby," Blackhawks coach Denis Savard said. "The guys were ready to play and we got the bounces too."

Jason Williams, Jonathan Toews, Yanic Perreault and Patrick Sharp scored in the first period for Chicago, which ended Washington's four-game winning streak.

Rene Bourque also scored for the Blackhawks, who snapped a four-game home losing slide (0-3-1).

The Capitals remained two points behind idle Philadelphia in eighth place in the Eastern Conference.

Washington's Olaf Kolzig made 37 saves

"We had a gear missing and they played well," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "I just think we had a real stinker. We stunk in the first period.

"I can't say it any more clearly: We were all horrible together."

Fedorov said the Capitals just need to shake off the loss.

"We just have to put it behind us and hopefully we'll bounce back," Fedorov said. "Right now in our playoff race, it's a crucial time."

Chicago outshot Washington 18-6 in the first period and jumped ahead 4-0.

Williams was credited with the opening goal 1:27 in, after apparently deflecting James Wisniewski's shot from the point. The goal withstood a video review.

Toews made it 2-0 only 1:52 later when he went from the side to the front of the net and swatted in his own rebound.

Perreault fired a high shot past Kolzig's glove at 9:14 to extend Chicago's lead to 3-0. Sharp fired in a rebound with 2:06 left in the first to stretch it to 4-0 after Kolzig made a pad save on Andrew Ladd.

Bourque converted a breakaway at 10:19 of the second to make it 5-0.

Esposito, who played in 873 games for the Blackhawks from 1969 to 1984, posted a team-record 418 wins. His jersey number, 35, is one of five retired by Chicago.

Esposito, selected an "ambassador" by the Blackhawks earlier this season, was joined by his older brother and Hall of Fame forward, Phil, during the pre-game ceremony.

"It's an honour to be here with the new, young vibrant Hawks," Tony Esposito said. "I know they're going to get better and we're all going to fill this building."

Notes: Wednesday's crowd of 20,942 was the Blackhawks' ninth sellout of the season ... Perreault returned after missing 18 games with a broken wrist. ... Chicago LW Ben Eager missed his sixth game with a shoulder injury. ... Five Capitals sat out with injures: D John Erskine, C David Steckel, C Michael Nylander, D Brian Pothier and RW Chris Clark.


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