The Blackhawks came out of Florida looking like their energy was depleted.
They’ve had a busy schedule, during which they went on a 12-game winning streak. But after two losses Blackhawks needed to find enough to get through these final two games before the All-Star break. Thanks in part to their goaltender again, the found enough on Sunday.
Artemi Panarin scored his 17th goal of the season and Crawford stopped all 25 shots he saw for his league-leading seventh shutout of the season as the Blackhawks beat the St. Louis Blues 2-0. The Blackhawks remain atop the Central Division with 70 points, giving them a five-point lead over idle Dallas and a six-point edge over the Blues.
Andrew Shaw scored his ninth of the season.
The Blackhawks looked listless and drained when they faced the Florida Panthers on Friday, and they didn’t look too sharp through the first 20 minutes of this one, either. But they got enough through the final two periods to snap their two-game losing streak.
“Yeah, it was much better as the game progressed,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We didn’t have much going for us, we were chasing the puck around in the first period. They’re positionally, a strong team. They had a lot of possession, zone time and Crow had to make some saves as well. We settled down nicely in the second period. Not a high-chance game tonight but we did a good job of playing the right way, particularly the last 40 minutes.”
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Crawford was once again ready from the start. While the Blackhawks limited the Blues’ chances through the final two periods the opposition had 12 first-period shots, and Crawford got all of them. Still, he downplayed his latest shutout.
“I don’t know. It’s pretty good I think so far but I think this team is never satisfied,” Crawford said. “The D men are working so hard in front of me and limiting second chances and keeping a lot of stuff to the outside. I’m able to see pucks. It’s just a solid effort by our unit, I think, in our zone.”
The Blackhawks, shut out against Florida on Friday, found just enough offense on Sunday. Panarin was first, taking a pretty pass from Patrick Kane and scorching one from the left circle for the 1-0 lead the Blackhawks wouldn’t relinquish.
“Special play. The anticipation between the two is Sedin-like,” Quenneville said of Panarin and Kane. “And one timer, great shot; it may have gone off a stick. But the thought process of getting into that position, he anticipated that play.”
Shaw added to the lead about five minutes into the third period when he tipped Marian Hossa’s shot for a power-play goal. That was enough for the Blackhawks, who like the Blues played in their 52nd game tonight but had more energy late.
“You look at the schedule and how hectic it’s been but St. Louis has played the same amount of games. Tonight was a good test for us,” Shaw said. “They came out flying in the first there and we countered with a good second. We scored on some opportunities tonight.”
The Blackhawks still would’ve been in decent shape had they lost tonight. They would’ve remained in first place in the division, although their lead obviously would’ve been more tenuous. But they wanted a rebound effort. It didn’t look like they would get it after that first period but they summoned enough energy to get through that final 40 minutes.
“We’ve been playing a lot of hockey and not every game is going to be perfect. But still, that was a hard team,” Crawford said. “We stuck with it. We didn’t panic at all, showed good poise and just kept playing our game and started to make plays. It was a tight game so I think the most important thing was no panic out there.”