Corey Crawford stops 39 as Blackhawks win ninth straight


Corey Crawford stops 39 as Blackhawks win ninth straight

MONTREAL — Corey Crawford admits there’s something special about playing the hometown team.

Sure, this season Crawford’s been playing well regardless of the opponent. But playing against Montreal, especially in Montreal? That’s just special. And that’s a good way to describe Crawford’s performance against the Canadiens on Thursday night.

Crawford stopped 39 of 40 shots and coach Joel Quenneville become the second all-time winningest coach outright as the Blackhawks beat the Canadiens, 2-1. The Blackhawks have now won nine straight; while they have as many points as the Dallas Stars, the Stars remain in first place with two games in hand.

Ryan Garbutt scored the game-winning goal in the first period, when the Blackhawks got all of their offense. Jonathan Toews scored his 17th of the season earlier in the first. Richard Panik had the secondary assist on Garbutt’s goal for his first point in a Blackhawks jersey.

The fact that the Blackhawks have caught the Stars, who they lost 4-0 to just prior to Christmas, even has them pleasantly surprised.

“To get on a run like this, I didn’t think it was possible for a big stretch, but in a short amount of time things have worked out,” Quenneville said. “There’s a lot of hockey to be played, but we’ll enjoy it today.”

[MORE BLACKHAWKS: Watch Corey Crawford makes four saves in three seconds]

They can enjoy it in large part due to Crawford’s outing on Thursday. Crawford has been good in every game against the Canadiens, even those that he lost. His stops on Thursday ranged from standard to stellar, and in six career outings against Montreal he’s now 4-0-2 with a 1.32 goals-against average and a .958 save percentage.

“I grew up here, used to come watch games here, and it’s still kind of surreal to step here on the ice and actually play a game out there,” Crawford said. “I don’t think that’ll change any time soon.”

Crawford was at his best in the second and third periods, when the Canadiens had 29 of their 40 shots.

“Yeah there’s excitement in his game and in his demeanor going into the game,” Quenneville said of Crawford. “I thought he was really good at morning skate, (had a) very business-like approach. We’ve seen him progress here each and every year. He’s having a great stretch for us right now; it’s one of the reasons we’ve been winning.”

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Toews gave the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead 8:26 into the game when Andrew Shaw found him open on Mike Condon’s glove side. While they couldn’t capitalize on other chances on Thursday, the top line continues to build momentum and collect points.

“I don’t think the three of us — Shawzy, and Hoss and myself — are putting any pressure on ourselves, the way maybe we were earlier,” Toews said. “I think a lot of that comes from just having the puck a lot more. I think we’re finally starting to know where the other guys are on our line, and we’re able to get pucks away from pressure and buy each other some time and space. And plays are just developing for us.”

About two minutes after Paul Byron tied it with a shot that went off his shin pad, Garbutt laced one past Condon for the 2-1 lead Crawford wouldn’t relinquish.

“I just had the puck bounce off the wall in a perfect spot for me, just picked my spot and let it rip,” Garbutt said.

Crawford did the rest. It’s been a very good stretch for the Blackhawks. It’s been a good one for Crawford, too, and he enjoyed continuing it back home.

“It seems like our team is just coming together and we’re not taking as many penalties. We’re playing a simple game with speed and skill,” Crawford said. “Everyone’s chemistry throughout the lineup compared to where we were in the beginning of the year ... there’s a lot of things coming together for us.”

NHL Draft Profile: D Evan Bouchard

NHL Draft Profile: D Evan Bouchard

From June 17-21, Charlie Roumeliotis will profile two prospects per day — 10 total (five forwards, five defensemen) — leading up to the NHL Draft.​

Evan Bouchard

Position: Defenseman
Height: 6-foot-2
Weight: 193 pounds
Shoots: Right

Scouting report:

"A highly intelligent defenseman with exceptional vision and offensive instincts. He reads the play very well and his passing ability allows him to be a constant threat in his team's transition game. He's one of the top offensive-defenseman in the Canadian Hockey League and magician-like when quarterbacking the power play."

NHL player comparable: John Carlson/Alex Pietrangelo

Fit for Blackhawks:

At 6-foot-2, 193 pounds, Bouchard is one of the most NHL-ready defensemen in this year's draft and that could be appetizing for a team like the Blackhawks, who are looking for immediate help on the blue line. But Bouchard is a right-handed shot, and drafting him would add a third high-end right-handed shot defenseman to the organization, along with prospects Henri Jokiharju and Ian Mitchell.

You can never have enough of them, but there's only room for three before somebody would have to play on their off hand and that would mean the third would be playing on the bottom pairing. All three of these players have Top 4 potential.

Still, that may not even come into play here. The Blackhawks will seek to take the best available player, like they always have. And if they feel it's Bouchard, they'll do it.

NHL Draft Profile: F Brady Tkachuk

NHL Draft Profile: F Brady Tkachuk

From June 17-21, Charlie Roumeliotis will profile two prospects per day — 10 total (five forwards, five defensemen) — leading up to the NHL Draft.​

Brady Tkachuk

Position: Forward
Height: 6-foot-3
Weight: 196 pounds
Shoots: Left

Scouting report:

"I know Tkachuk isn't a center, but Ryan Getzlaf (Anaheim Ducks) is another player who comes to mind with his combination of size, strength, skill and nastiness. Tkachuk has impressive hand skills and his upside has only begun because I think there's lots of maturity and growth to come. I've seen his speed and skating improve each of the past three years and I think he'll still get stronger and his balance will get better. His man strength will come and it'll be like, 'Oh boy, look out.'"

NHL player comparable: Matthew Tkachuk/Wayne Simmonds

Fit for Blackhawks:

If you're looking for a player that checks all the boxes in this year's draft, it's Tkachuk. And man could the Blackhawks use a player like him.

He's got offensive skill, willingly goes to the greasy areas, can provide net-front presence while playing a top-six role, and perhaps the most important part for the Blackhawks: he's very close to NHL ready. The Blackhawks will be patient with whoever they draft, but there's also some urgency to turn things around in 2018-19.

If they can draft a player like Tkachuk who can potentially jump into the lineup as early as this upcoming season, that would be ideal. Because he's the type of player that can make an impact, not just get by.