United, they fall

STEVE MACFARLANE

, Last Updated: 12:03 PM ET

CHICAGO -- The United Center curse continues.

The Calgary Flames nearly pulled off victories here in Games 1 and 2 of their first-round series against the Chicago Blackhawks.

That might be as close as they get this season.

With an overwhelming 5-1 win over the Flames last night in the Windy City, the Hawks can close out the best-of-seven set at the Saddledome tomorrow night.

Running their record at United to 7-0 against the Flames this season -- including all three meetings in the playoffs so far -- the Blackhawks have the Flames on the brink.

And it didn't take long to apply the chokehold.

Three goals in a span of 1:49 midway through the first period gave them control of the game and the series in which they now hold a 3-2 edge.

"I don't think it has anything to do with the place," said winger Michael Cammalleri. "I don't think we were very ready. Not just in the beginning, but right through it.

"We've got a lot more to give than that."

If they don't discover it -- and quick -- it will be a fourth consecutive flop in the first round.

Brent Seabrook has done plenty to annoy the Flames in this series.

He helped tweak Rene Bourque's bum ankle with a bump in the corner.

He gave Curtis Glencross a nasty-looking beak with a hit from behind.

Last night he gave his Blackhawks the lead and helped them buck the series trend of the first team to score finishing as the loser.

Scoring his first NHL playoff goal to open the floodgates, Seabrook got the Hawks off on the right skate, so to speak, when he snuck in from the point and slapped a feed from Martin Havlat past Miikka Kiprusoff.

His dump-in on his next shift took a funny hop off the boards and went straight to Kris Versteeg, who potted the gift into a yawning cage to make it 3-0 Blackhawks before the Flames even managed their third shot on goal.

"We took bad penalties, we didn't get pucks on the wall -- things we had been doing," said Flames captain Jarome Iginla. "They went with it.

"We just weren't ready. We'll be ready next game."

Giving the Hawks their first two-tally lead of the series was Patrick Sharp, who took advantage of another fortunate bounce off the glass and tucked his shot from the slot inside the far post past Kiprusoff less than two minutes after Seabrook opened the scoring on the powerplay with Cory Sarich in the sin bin for pushing Dave Bolland to the ice after the whistle.

Andrew Ladd, a Flames-snuffer during the regular-season this year, has been kept silent in the playoffs.

But he made his first goal this spring a big one, answering back just a few minutes after Dustin Boyd's first NHL playoff snipe gave the Flames hope.

Battling a familiar foe for position in front of the opposition net, Ladd beat former Red Deer Rebel Dion Phaneuf to the puck after Jordan Leopold poked it off Bolland's stick and into the crease.

A quick review confirmed Ladd, the ex-Calgary Hitmen star who battled Phaneuf many times in the WHL, pushed puck past Kiprusoff legitimately. It spelled the end of the fight for the Flames as they fell behind 4-1.

It also was the end of Kiprusoff's evening.

Phaneuf's ended early, too, after he took a high hit from Troy Brouwer and left the ice.

The Flames say he's considered day-to-day and will be evaluated in Calgary tomorrow.

It'll also be gut-check time for his teammates.

"We weren't good," said a sullen Craig Conroy. "We've got to be better. We have an opportunity to go home and we've got to win that one.

"It was an awful game."

STEVE.MACFARLANE@SUNMEDIA.CA


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