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Columnist
Blackhawks take big step with road victory
By Mike Imrem | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 4/28/2009 7:22 AM

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The Blackhawks turned what could have been a growing pain on the road into a growing gain Monday night in Calgary.

The reason I say that is two thoughts come to mind about hockey crowds.

The first is that they think they can influence the outcome of games. The second is that frequently they're correct.

Not on this night, though. Not up in Calgary. Not in Game 6 of the Hawks-Flames' opening-round Stanley Cup playoff series.

The young Hawks, growing up before our very eyes, dared venture into the belly of the beast that is the Pengrowth Saddledome and emerge with a 4-1 victory.

"We talked about to get to the next hurdle you have to find a way to win on the road," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said.

So while it was one thing for the Hawks to beat the Flames 5-1 in the United Center on Saturday, it was another thing to go into Calgary and clinch the series 4 victories to 2.

All it took was Hawks grizzled goalie Nikolai Khabibulin to be terrific, youngsters such as Dustin Byfuglien to make Flames veterans such as Jarome Iginla look old and for the entire team of visitors to extend their disciplined play.

The Hawks yielded 44 shots to the Flames, but Khabibulin limited Calgary to that 1 measly goal.

"Khabibulin had one of those games you can call a goaltending win," Quenneville said.

This winning feeling isn't new to Khabibulin, who won a Stanley Cup in Tampa Bay. But for emerging stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, to win a playoff series on the road is one of the bigger strides in their NHL evolution.

Two goals in the first half of the first period made this one start to look easy by silencing the Saddledome crowd, but it's never easy to win on hostile ice in the NHL.

The Flames, down 3-0 entering the third period, began skating and their fans began screaming. But Khabibulin continued being the Bulin Wall, and the Hawks prevailed to record their first playoff series win in 13 years.

A Game 7 in the United Center would have been exciting Wednesday night, but the Hawks decided to wait until the next series to entertain their fans again.

Just when it looked like the home team was going to win every game in the series, the Hawks broke the trend by winning at Calgary. "It's a dangerous place," Quenneville said of the Saddledome.

Yes, it is. In a sport that has penalties for roughing, fighting and slashing, it must be much more comforting for the Hawks that 22,000 fans have their backs back home in the UC.

But in Game 6 at Calgary it was Khabibulin who had the Hawks' backs. He not only stood on his head, he stepped on the Flames' throats.

Good thing, too. Calgary fans came ready to rock the house. Fortunately for the Hawks, however, the Flames were down too much too early for their fires to be stoked.

So now, in the next round, the Hawks will be over this road hump. They'll also have more experience than they had coming into the Calgary series.

It'll be interesting to see how the pain-gain equation works out in the next couple of weeks as the Hawks continue their education.

mimrem@dailyherald.com