1/25/97 -- 4:46 AM

Maple Leafs-Blackhawks


CHICAGO (AP) - The first game of the Blackhawks' post-Ed Belfour era was strikingly similar to Belfour's final game in a Chicago uniform.

The Blackhawks lost 2-1 in overtime to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday night. It was Chicago's second consecutive overtime loss, and it came just hours after the team agreed to trade Belfour to the San Jose Sharks for three players in a deal that wasn't finalized until early today.

``Any time that happens on the day of a game, it is a distraction,'' Blackhawks coach Craig Hartsburg said after his team's fourth straight defeat. ``But we have to live with those distractions. We could have won, but we gave the puck away again. We're finding ways to lose.''

Belfour, the Blackhawks' No. 1 goalie all decade, was supposed to start but was told not to come to the United Center because Chicago was trying to complete the trade. The Blackhawks received goalie Chris Terreri, defenseman Michal Sykora and forward Ulf Dahlen from the Sharks.

Jeff Hackett, Belfour's replacement, made 30 saves but couldn't keep Kirk Muller from scoring on a rebound of Todd Warriner's shot 2:53 into overtime.

``You have to be prepared for every game,'' Hackett said. ``I tried to make the best of a tough situation.''

Muller has four goals in six games since returning from a shoulder injury, which he aggravated Friday.

``He found a way to play,'' Toronto coach Mike Murphy said. ``He set a great example for all of our players. He didn't miss a shift and showed a lot of grit.''

The Maple Leafs snapped a five-game road losing streak. They came to Chicago six weeks ago with nine consecutive road losses but beat the Blackhawks 3-1 behind two goals from Muller.

Toronto pulled within four points of Chicago in the race for the final Western Conference playoff spot.

``It's either eight points back (with a loss) or four points back. Hopefully, we can build from this,'' Muller said. ``It's a divisional game, a big game. If you can't get excited for one of these games, you're in the wrong business.''

While Toronto has the NHL's worst road record (7-18-0), the Blackhawks are the worst at home (8-16-3).

Tony Amonte scored his team-high 29th goal for Chicago. The Blackhawks will play their next six games away from the United Center. They are 9-9-5 on the road.

Asked if the Blackhawks needed to get away, an agitated Chris Chelios made references to comfortable sofas being removed from the team's dressing room and new black jerseys that the players wore Friday.

``Who knows what we need? Couches ... jerseys ... road trips,'' the Chicago captain said. ``It's the guys. We're on the ice. We don't play well. It's the worst the team has played since I've been here.''

Larry Murphy also scored and Felix Potvin made 27 saves for Toronto. Potvin was helped by three shots hitting the post - Kevin Miller near the end of the second period, Keith Carney midway through the third and Alex Zhamnov with 5:05 left in regulation.

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