Corey Crawford stellar as Blackhawks beat Predators


Corey Crawford stellar as Blackhawks beat Predators

Corey Crawford usually likes games in which he’s busy. Well, he didn’t have much quiet time on Tuesday night against the Nashville Predators, and a busy Crawford was a successful Crawford.

Crawford stopped 36 of 37 shots and Patrick Kane extended his point streak to 23 games with the 600th point of his career as the Blackhawks beat the Predators, 4-1, at the United Center.

Dennis Rasmussen, playing in his first NHL game, scored his first career goal on his first career shot. Andrew Shaw and Teuvo Teravainen each had a goal and an assist. Niklas Hjalmarsson had two assists.

The Blackhawks got the goals in the third period, but it was Crawford keeping things steady, especially through the first two periods.

“Yeah, I got in a groove early, saw the puck really well all game and our defensemen, again, were eliminating second chances,” Crawford said. “That makes the goalie’s job so much easier when you only have to stop the first one.”

[MORE BLACKHAWKS: Patrick Kane extends point streak with empty-netter]

Coach Joel Quenneville called Crawford’s outing, “spectacular.”

“He was great,” he said. “We gave up high-quality (chances) tonight. We haven’t given up that kind of quality all year. First period he kept us in there, great in the second and big saves in the third, and all alone on a lot of them, which is unusual for us.”

The Blackhawks are starting to get more balance among their lines. They’re also started to get scoring from people other than Kane, Artem Anisimov and Artemi Panarin. Rasmussen gave the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead with another thing the team needs: net-front-presence goals.

Shaw, who had one of his best games of the season, put the Blackhawks up 2-0 with a power-play goal in the second period. Eric Nystrom gave the Predators their only goal with less than a minute remaining in the second, a shot that went off his skate — but wasn’t kicked in — to cut the Blackhawks’ lead to 2-1.

Then came the Blackhawks’ third-period push beginning with Teravainen, who scored just 14 seconds into the third for a 3-1 lead. It was the second consecutive game Teravainen’s scored an early third-period goal — he scored 21 seconds into the third against Winnipeg on Sunday.

“Good ice. I like to shoot with the good ice in the first part of the period,” he said. “I was still trying to look for the pass first but I had nothing, so I tried to shoot.”

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Then came the empty-net goal for Kane, who Quenneville put out there late for a chance to extend his point streak.

“To be honest with you, I wasn’t thinking about it too much until you go out there in the end there and you hear the crowd cheering and you know they’re looking for something,” Kane said. “That’s when you want to get something at the end.”

The Blackhawks are starting to gain some traction. Their lines look better. They’re getting more balanced scoring. But on Tuesday, it was mainly Crawford’s show.

“I felt pretty good, made a few key saves at key points in the game,” Crawford said. “I just try to build off every game and stay as consistent as I can.”

Niklas Hjalmarsson 'wasn't happy' about trade, but remembers time with Blackhawks fondly


Niklas Hjalmarsson 'wasn't happy' about trade, but remembers time with Blackhawks fondly

Apparently time doesn’t heal all wounds. 

Nearly a year and a half since being traded to the Coyotes, Niklas Hjalmarsson will return to the United Center ice on Thursday playing for the visiting team.  

“It’s going to be strange coming in as the away team and being in the other locker room,” said Hjalmarsson on Wednesday. “I bet it’s going to be a lot of emotions and mixed feelings.” 

This is also the first time Hjalmarsson has been back to the city of Chicago since he was traded, a city he called his “second home.” A home where he spent parts of 10 seasons, and never really planned on leaving.

“I wasn’t happy, to be honest with you,” said Hjalmarsson of the trade to Arizona. “I was shocked. It took me a couple days to actually realize I wasn’t going to play for the Hawks anymore.”

Including the playoffs, Hjalmarsson played 751 games in the Indian head sweater. Despite that and the team’s three Stanley Cup victories, the Blackhawks shipped him off to Arizona for Connor Murphy and Laurent Dauphin in June of 2017.

“You kind of let it go after a while,” he said. “Now I’m just hoping all the success for the guys over here too.”

Hjalmarsson was known for his toughness, repeatedly blocking shot after shot, giving up his body, while never missing a shift. He credits his long-time teammates — Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook — for a lot of his success and identity on the blue line.

“I couldn’t have had better role models coming into a team,” he said. “I’m very thankful to have played on the same team as those guys and created a lot of success together. We’re always going to be connected with the Cups that we’ve had.”

The third championship won by that defense-trio was on United Center ice against the Lightning in 2015, but that isn’t the memory that stands out most for Hjalmarsson.

“The first Cup is always going to be pretty special,” said the 31-year old. “Even just going to the conference final (in 2009), even when we lost against Detroit that year, the year before was great memories too. The first time for me going into the playoffs and playing deep.”

The tables have turned now for both Hjalmarsson and the Blackhawks. 

The Coyotes have yet to score an even-strength goal this season, while the Blackhawks have claimed eight of a possible 10 points thus far through five games and expect to have their starting goaltender back between the pipes. 

But you won’t hear any ill-will from Hjalmarsson, he’s still rooting for the Hawks.

“I always think that Chicago deserves to have a team in the playoffs,” he said. “It’s not that I wish them not to do well. It’s the total opposite. I want them to have continued success.”

Corey Crawford expects to make season debut for Blackhawks on Thursday vs. Arizona


Corey Crawford expects to make season debut for Blackhawks on Thursday vs. Arizona

The wait is almost over.

After missing nearly 10 months with a concussion, Corey Crawford said he expects to start on Thursday when the Blackhawks take on the Arizona Coyotes at the United Center. An official decision will come following the team's morning skate.

"It feels good to be back to myself," Crawford said. "I'm feeling good, I'm feeling clear. ... It was a pretty long process. But I think the most important thing was not to rush anything. When I finally was out, it got to a point where I wasn’t in shape to play and it was time to rest and it’s unfortunate it took a lot longer than I would’ve liked. 

"It’s been long, but finally, just to get back and be practicing with the team has meant a lot. It’s good to get to this point now when you’re really close to playing. Practices have been great, been getting timing a little bit more and getting up to speed and reading shots and all that, so it'll be nice to finally get in one."

Crawford's last appearance in an NHL game was Dec. 23, 2017 against the New Jersey Devils when he allowed three goals on seven shots in 13:22 of action before getting pulled. So of course, emotions will naturally be running high, especially in front of the hometown crowd.

"I'm sure I'll be a little anxious getting into it," Crawford said. "Some nerves. But we'll see. We'll wait until the morning, but I'm definitely excited I can tell you that."

It's obviously terrific news for the Blackhawks, who have picked up eight out of a possible 10 points to start the season and are getting their two-time Stanley Cup winning goalie back between the pipes. It's been a long time coming, and Crawford is coming back into a healthy situation where the Blackhawks are in a good spot in the standings.

"It's great news, I'm sure it'll be exciting for him exciting for our team, exciting for our fans and the organization as well," Patrick Kane said. "It’s probably a good situation all around. Cam [Ward] has done a great job of playing in the net so far. Crow is really good in practice right now, so I’m sure he’s itching to get back, too. We’ve had a good start here. It’s something we want to keep going, and I’m sure him coming back on home ice, in front of our crowd, will be a fun one for him and for our team."

There's no doubting how important Crawford is the team and organization. While there may be a little bit of rust early on, the Blackhawks are expecting him to look like his old self.

"He means a lot to the team," Quenneville said. "We felt last year was a good example of how important he was and how well he was playing for us, as well. We’ve gotten off to a decent start and he was a big factor in it. We know that goaltending is such a big part of the team and your success a lot of nights depends on him and his consistency’s always been in place.

"But he looks good in the net. He’s been off for a long, long time. Is there rust? Do we expect rust? I think the way he’s competing and practicing and finding pucks, he looks like he hasn’t missed a beat. So we’re looking forward to him getting in there and getting comfortable and how he’s feeling going forward will dictate a lot of the decisions about him going back in."