Blackhawks

Corey Crawford stops 39 as Blackhawks win ninth straight

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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.”

[SHOP BLACKHAWKS: Get your Blackhawks gear right here]

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.”

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Is Crawford ready to go?

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USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Is Crawford ready to go?

Jimmy Greenfield, Connor McKnight, and Matt Spiegel join Kap on the panel to discuss Corey Crawford back on the ice for the first time in 10 months. The Bears have good news when it comes to Khalil Mack, who injured his ankle against the Dolphins.

Plus, Fred Hoiberg announces that Jabari Parker is coming off the bench for the season opener.

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below:

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.”