When the Blackhawks return home following their Circus Trip, they’re always wary of their first game back at the United Center.
They’ve sometimes been lethargic in this return. Two weeks on the road, hopping from one time zone to another, will do that to you. So the Blackhawks didn’t need to be pretty against the Florida Panthers. They needed to just find a way to eke one out.
Thanks once again to their goaltending, they did.
Crawford stopped 38 of 39 shots in regulation and overtime and Artemi Panarin scored the shootout winner as the Blackhawks edged the Florida Panthers 2-1 on Tuesday night. The Blackhawks, who have collected points in their past three games, (2-0-1), remain atop the Western Conference with 33 points.
Again, they may need to check on another loss. Artem Anisimov left after blocking a Duncan Keith shot off the inside of his right foot/ankle late in the third period and did not return. Coach Joel Quenneville said, “they had it looked at, he seemed to be OK but we’ll know more tomorrow.”
Richard Panik scored his first goal since Oct. 22. He also helped seal the shootout with his high wrist shot over Roberto Luongo, who stopped 32 of 33 shots for the Panthers.
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The Blackhawks looked like they usually do after the Circus Trip: decent, not great, and struggling to get much done. Factor in that this was their third game without captain Jonathan Toews, who’s still out with an upper-body injury. They had some good opportunities, but Luongo was stingy. While the Blackhawks were figuring things out in front of him, Crawford was once again calm and convincing in net.
“We’re really grateful for Corey being behind us,” Panarin said via interpreter Igor Alfimov. “If it weren’t for him, the last couple game would turn out differently that’s for sure. We’re lucky to have him.”
Crawford faced some prime opportunities throughout the night and, again, dealt with a lot of shots.
“Yeah, but our guys were clearing lanes and taking away rebounds,” Crawford said. “When you see the first shot and clear the rest after that, get sticks in there, it’s just a big win for us after coming back from the road.”
It was another game in which the Blackhawks were outshot in the first period (13-8) but still led at the end of it. Credit that to Panik, who took a long Dennis Rasmussen pass and backhanded one past Luongo.
“I think he had an outstanding start to the season, then it slowed for him. You need that taste where you’re getting some rewards,” Quenneville said. “He started playing some solid games at the end of that trip and tonight he was ready from the outset.”
Jaromir Jagr scored a power-play goal early in the third period before Panarin decided it in the shootout.
The Blackhawks won’t get any style points for Tuesday’s victory. The first game off the Circus Trip is rarely pretty. But it worked, so they’ll take it.
“Actually, it was a tough game, also kind of a sleepy game,” Panarin said. “We tried our best to get maximum out of ourselves.”