Big third period pushes Blackhawks past Flames

Big third period pushes Blackhawks past Flames

The Blackhawks’ first two periods against Calgary on Tuesday were pretty forgettable.

On a night when the Cubs were creating offensive fireworks in Cleveland, the Blackhawks weren’t mustering much on the United Center ice. That is, until the third period. Then, they did a whole lot with a little.

Artem Anisimov had the game-winning goal and an assist and Corey Crawford was stellar in stopping 33 of 34 shots as the Blackhawks beat the Flames 5-1. The Blackhawks have now won four of their last five and have collected points in seven of their last eight games.

Despite some rough points this season, and another slow start on Tuesday, the Blackhawks are tied with the Minnesota Wild with a Central Division-leading 13 points. Anisimov is now on a career-high, eight-game point streak (seven goals, six assists)

“There are some positive signs in there,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “The penalty killing is getting better, a couple lines getting better and a little bit more balance in our rotation. I still think we need to keep getting better.”

Sure, but the Blackhawks are nevertheless collecting points. And once they got the lead on Anisimov’s goal, a beautiful tape-to-tape pass from Kane that Anisimov pushed past Brian Elliott, the Blackhawks didn’t relinquish it. They scored four goals on seven shots in that third period, including a dazzling one by Tyler Motte in which the rookie bulldozed his way to his third of the season.

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“[Brent Seabrook] made a great play in the corner getting the puck up the wing, [Nick Schmaltz] made a better play chipping it by their d-man,” Motte said. “The bench was yelling, ‘speed,’ so I just tried to take it wide, happened to get the puck on the weak side of the net there and slide one in.”

And Crawford was once again the reason the Blackhawks were in a close game. Crawford saw 26 of those 34 shots through the first two periods. The Flames were clogging things up in front of him, leading to deflections and bounces that Crawford was nevertheless able to corral.

“Early they were getting pucks and traffic and tips and a couple of them hit me in the head there,” Crawford said. “But I think it’s just a matter of being on top and our guys are on the side there to clear rebounds and get rid of anything else.”

The Blackhawks didn’t play their best game on Tuesday but they still won. Credit Crawford for keeping them in there with his early work. Credit the Blackhawks for taking advantage of the opportunities they got late, when the Flames were trying to get back into the game. The outings aren’t always pretty, but getting points nonetheless.

“Today we find a way to win the game,” Anisimov said. “Obviously we played not great. But the PK is working, the power play was working today. Just clicking, you know? Just stay together.”

How Blackhawks plan to handle Corey Crawford's workload

How Blackhawks plan to handle Corey Crawford's workload

Corey Crawford is back and it didn't look like he skipped much of a beat. The Blackhawks were handed their first regulation loss of the season to the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday, but the 33-year-old netminder stopped 27 of 30 shots (.900 save percentage) in his season debut and made several timely saves to keep his team in it.

In the larger picture, it was a win based on how well Crawford looked between the pipes.

"Yeah, I think it is," coach Joel Quenneville said after practice on Friday. "It's one of things we were wondering, how he would handle post-game and how he came in today. Very encouraging signs. He felt good in all aspects of what he went through and dealt with, and practiced well today too, so that was good."

The first one is in the books.

But what's the plan going forward? Will Crawford be on a "pitch count" or will they treat him like they have in past seasons when he was healthy?

In the past, Crawford has generally started somewhere in between 55-58 games per season. Part of that has been because of injuries. Another part is the Blackhawks have had reliable backups, which allowed them to give Crawford an extra night off here and there to keep him fresh.

It's not unreasonable, though, to think Crawford could flirt with 50 starts, considering he missed only five games to start the season. And they can still accomplish that by playing it safe.

The Blackhawks have 13 more back-to-backs this season, which gives them the opportunity to start Cam Ward at some point in each of them. That leaves room for another 15 or so starts to sprinkle in for Ward that could serve as rest days for Crawford and still being on track to start around 50.

Obviously, the Blackhawks want to be careful with how much they ask of Crawford because concussions are tricky to deal with and every player responds differently to it.

His return comes at a time where the Blackhawks are slated to play seven games in 11 days after playing just two in the previous 10. Thursday marked the start of that stretch.

"He’ll tell us how he feels and we’ll go from there and make those decisions," Quenneville said.

The Blackhawks have been on record saying they prefer not to carry three goaltenders. But in this case it makes sense. At least in the short term.

Quenneville said Friday that the Blackhawks will reevaluate the situation at the end of the weekend following the beginning of a busy stretch where they'll play three games in four days.

"Yeah, that’s the mindset," he said. "Let’s see how we handle these three in four and then we’ll address it."

Crawford is expected to start on Saturday in Columbus, making it his second start in three days. That's when they'll get a better sense of how he's handling things.

If it were up to him, Crawford said he feels he's prepared for it.

"Yeah, sure," Crawford said. "Why not? I've been working hard with [strength and conditioning coach Paul Goodman]. He's got me where I need to be, so I'm in shape right now. Why not?"

Hawks Talk Podcast: Thoughts on Corey Crawford's season debut


Hawks Talk Podcast: Thoughts on Corey Crawford's season debut

In the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle, Jamal Mayers and Charlie Roumeliotis recap Corey Crawford’s season debut after missing nearly 10 months with a concussion.

Mayers talks about the Kitty system that Niklas Hjalmarsson and Vinnie Hinostroza probably dealt with in their returns to Chicago.

The guys also discuss what’s next for Crawford, the upcoming matchup against Artemi Panarin and the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the Blackhawks’ biggest areas for improvement.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below, and be sure to subscribe, rate us and write a review!