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It may not have been enough to end a long playoff drought, but a full season from Martin Havlat certainly would have made the Chicago Blackhawks better.
Havlat looks to extend his goal streak to a career-high five games Friday as the Blackhawks continue a seven-game road trip against the Edmonton Oilers.
Chicago (21-26-7) has dealt with injuries to several key players this season, including captain Adrian Aucoin and forwards Michal Handzus and Tuomo Ruutu. None, however, was as damaging as the sprained right ankle that kept Havlat out of the lineup for six weeks.
The Blackhawks went 6-9-4 during that span without their best player, and lost all three games that Havlat missed in January with a groin injury. Chicago, which is likely to miss the playoffs for the ninth straight season, is 15-14-3 with Havlat in the lineup and 9-5-2 when he scores a goal.
Havlat's empty-net goal Wednesday night in a 3-0 victory at Vancouver was his fifth in the last four games. He has five goals and two assists as the Blackhawks have won three of four on their longest road trip of the season.
This is the second time this season and third time in his career that Havlat has goals in four consecutive games.
Although he has been their hottest player of late, Havlat wasn't the biggest contributor in Wednesday's win for the Blackhawks.
That honor belongs to Patrick Lalime, who stopped 34 shots in his season debut, helping Chicago improve to 4-1-0 in its past five games.
"I was a little nervous in the beginning but I tried to keep my mind off it," said Lalime, who hadn't played since April after back surgery in early September to repair a herniated disk. "It's been a while since I played a game, but we had some good practices."
Lalime, who also had knee surgery last summer, was 3-1 with a .930 save percentage during a recent conditioning stint with Norfolk of the AHL.
"We wanted to give Patty the win and help as much as we can," said Havlat, who played with Lalime in Ottawa. "We did, but they had a couple of great chances too and he was unbelievable. I'm really happy to see him win after almost a year."
Whether Lalime starts Friday remains to be seen. With three goaltenders on the roster, Brian Boucher served as Lalime's backup Wednesday while No. 1 netminder Nikolai Khabibulin had the night off after leading the Blackhawks to a shootout win Tuesday in Calgary.
Edmonton (26-24-4) finds itself out of the playoff picture in the Western Conference, and a lack of consistency is partly to blame. Since winning three straight from Dec. 4-8, the Oilers have been unable to win more than two in a row, going 10-14-2 in that span.
Undisciplined play cost Edmonton in a 5-2 loss to Vancouver on Tuesday night as the Canucks scored twice on a pair of full two-minute 5-on-3 power plays.
"Anytime you get in a position where you have to kill two full minutes of 5-on-3, it's difficult to overcome," Oilers coach Craig MacTavish said. "We are good enough to win, but we aren't good enough to overcome that kind of disadvantage."
The Blackhawks ended a three-game losing streak to the Oilers with a 4-1 home victory on Dec. 10. Chicago has lost eight of its last 10 visits to Edmonton.