CHICAGO -- Can someone hit rewind on the season for the Chicago Blackhawks?
The same team that busted out of the gates in with a 21-0-3 record has done a complete about-face recently. The latest example was Friday night's 2-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks at the United Center.
Whereas they sailed through the first half of the 48-game lockout-shortened season, the Blackhawks have now lost three of their last four and five of their last nine games.
A shot by Ducks defenseman Sheldon Souray bounced off the stick of Chicago defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson and into the Blackhawks net at 17:52 of the third period to clinch the win and break a four-game losing streak for Anaheim.
"I tried to do as much as I could there to try and block the shot, but obviously it went off my stick there and in the net," Hjalmarsson said. "That's the way the puck bounces sometimes."
The Ducks ended up sweeping the three-game regular season series with Chicago, a potential opponent at some point in the upcoming playoffs.
"It's good we have a little success against them in the regular season and that's all it means," said Souray, whose game-winner was his seventh of the season. "We have a lot of hockey left, they're a team that's on top and we're chasing them.
"Everyone's chasing them, but we're really chasing them. It's a good win, it's good to get two points and get off the (four-game) slide."
Still off to the best start in team history, the Central Division-leading Blackhawks (25-5-3) maintained the best record in the NHL.
"(All three vs. Anaheim were) pretty even games, but you look at how close you are to the finish line and you come up with nothing, it's almost hard to imagine that we come up with no wins and only one point," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "It's a disappointment in ways, but hopefully there are lessons there because when games are on the line, tight games, that's when we've got to be our best."
The Pacific Division-leading Ducks (23-7-4), off to the second-best start in club history, have the second best mark in the NHL.
In addition, Chicago has 53 points, second-best to only Pittsburgh's 54, while the Ducks are now third in the league with 50 points.
Chicago goalie Ray Emery suffered his first loss of the season after a career-best 12-0-0 start entering Friday's game.
"You're never happy with a loss, but you know you're going to lose a couple during the year," Emery said. "You just have to correct mistakes if there are mistakes to be corrected and move on.
"We battled back and got it to 1-1 and then, the last couple minutes, just a funny bounce. It happens every once in a while. But I thought we played pretty well for the most part."
Both teams knew Friday was likely going to be the biggest game thus far this season, and so did Blackhawks fans, who set a season-high attendance mark of 22,105.
Because of both team's struggles of late, Friday's game was built more upon defense than offense, as Chicago managed only 26 shots and Anaheim 24.
"Playing these guys in their home building after beating them twice, (the fear of) getting blown out is a big factor," said Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau. "The longer the game went without them scoring, we gained confidence. It was a really good test for us."
Anaheim came into Chicago in no mood to play around. You could tell right from the opening faceoff that the Ducks were ready to play a slow, methodical game, picking their spots for the best scoring opportunities -- and that's exactly what they did.
"We wanted to have a good start and it was the focus of our night tonight," Souray said. "It's been our Achilles heel the last few games. We came out, to a man, we played hard and we stuck with it. We played with a lead too tonight, which was easier than trying to come back."
The first period couldn't have been played more evenly, as the Ducks and Blackhawks each took nine shots, faceoffs went 7-6 in Chicago's favor, and there was only one penalty, a two-minute interference call against Hjalmarsson. It's not surprising the period wound up scoreless.
Anaheim broke the deadlock early in the second period on Corey Perry's 11th goal of the season at 1:15.
The score would remain 1-0 until 2:26 into the third period, when Chicago's Patrick Kane nailed his 18th goal of the season.
The goal was a huge relief for the Hawks, as it was their first power play goal in 12 tries during the last three games. It was only Chicago's sixth power play goal in its last 30 man-advantage opportunities.
The game looked like it may go to overtime until Souray's winning score with less than three minutes remaining. Souray's goal helped Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller improve his own record in goal to 12-4-3 on the season.
"Everybody was ready to work a little harder, to do a little more than we did the last games," Hiller said. "Sure it makes it makes it a little more special if you play against the best team in the league. If you want to have a chance, you definitely have to play your best game, your 'A' game. I think that's what we were ready to bring tonight."
NOTES: The Ducks won the prior two meetings with the Hawks 4-2 and 3-2. ... There is still no word on when injured Hawks players Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp will return to the lineup. ... The Ducks are 41-30-5-1 in the all-time series with the Blackhawks. ... Chicago plays Sunday at archrival Detroit before returning home Monday against Nashville and then Thursday vs. St. Louis. ... The Ducks play at Columbus on Sunday and at Dallas on Monday before returning home.