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.”
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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.”