Hawks' start right on money

Tribune staff reporter

Victorious in all six of their previous road games, the Detroit Red Wings swaggered into the United Center flaunting the biggest payroll and best record in the National Hockey League.

But Sunday night belonged to the Blackhawks.

Skating before a sellout crowd of 20,989, they stayed undefeated on home ice by seizing a big early lead and then holding on to best Scotty Bowman's $64.4 million team 5-4.

"It was a big-time win for this hockey club," coach Brian Sutter said after the Hawks came back from their first loss in nine games Friday night in Anaheim to stretch their United Center undefeated string to eight games (6-0-2). "We played one of the best teams in the world.

"They have an experienced team, not just experienced but a team that's experienced in winning. We went after them in the first two periods; we expected them to come after us in the third."

The Hawks greeted the Red Wings' new gold-plated goaltender Dominik Hasek with first-period goals by Kyle Calder, Michael Nylander and Igor Korolev.

In the second period they got goals from Steve Thomas and rookie Aaron Downey to take a 5-1 lead.

The goal by Downey at 11 minutes 13 seconds was his first in the NHL. It came on a sprawling backhand rebound of a shot by Pascal Rheaume and it prompted Bowman to yank Hasek and put in Manny Legace.

Helped by Hawks penalties, the Red Wings then rallied and with 8:20 to play, Luc Robitaille's second goal of the game slashed their deficit to 5-4. Their earlier goals at the expense of Jocelyn Thibault came on second-period power plays, and on one they had a two-man advantage.

In Thomas' opinion, the crowd was a factor.

"It brought back memories of the old building," he said, alluding to his first stint with the Hawks, when they played in Chicago Stadium.

"It gives you that pump of adrenaline to get you going early."

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