MONTREAL, Quebec — Corey Crawford couldn’t have played much better in his second NHL game in his hometown. Big stops, breakaway stops, Crawford was gobbling just about everything up that came around his net.
Problem was, the Chicago Blackhawks’ once vaunted offense was once again too quiet on the other side.
Crawford stopped 36 of 38 shots, but Andrei Markov got two past him, including the game-winner in overtime, in the Montreal Canadiens’ 2-1 decision over the Blackhawks on Saturday night. The Blackhawks’ struggles in Montreal continue, as they still haven’t won here since Dec. 3, 2001.
Marian Hossa scored his 16th of the season, but it took the Blackhawks until the third period to show that spark and energy that was missing most of the first 40 minutes. Credit the Canadiens, who played the Blackhawks tight throughout the game. But the Blackhawks aren’t strangers to that type of game. On Saturday, however, they struggled to produce much in it.
“This was a playoff-type game: not much room and a fast game. That’s what you have to battle through,” said Hossa. “The whole season won’t be easy; we’re not going to score five, six goals in those games. Sometimes we just have to grind and battle through games like this.”
Much like the last time the two teams played here, goaltending was at the forefront. After having one of his worst outings against the New York Rangers on Wednesday, Crawford had one of his best against the Canadiens. Crawford stopped several breakaways, including bang-bang shots from Brandon Prust and Lars Eller. On those two, he was also without his stick.
“I don’t know if I want to be doing that every time,” Crawford said. “I didn’t have a stick, and they got a breakaway. So I just sprawled out when he came in. The rebound went to the other guy, and I just kicked my leg out. Luckily I hit it.”
Outside of that Rangers game, Crawford’s been solid since coming off his groin injury.
“Goaltending on both ends was real good. Corey had another great game,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “It’s nice to see him return since his injury with purpose. He was certainly a factor tonight.”
Unfortunately, so were some Blackhawks mistakes. When the Blackhawks are calm and confident, the results have been stellar. Lately, that’s been absent.
“You have stretches where I’m sure we can say everything was going in for us, be it favorable bounces, funny ones going in. But certainly we were playing the right way. The last few games we’ve been loose in our game,” Quenneville said. “Puck support, puck presence and puck patience isn’t great."
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The Blackhawks haven’t been playing their type of hockey since the calendar turned to 2014. They’re hardly in trouble; there are ups and downs in an 82-game season, and the Blackhawks are as susceptible to those as any team. But they’re also one of the best at getting back to their brand of hockey. They started doing that late on Saturday night. They just didn’t do it soon enough.
“I don’t know if it’s so much teams we’re playing against as much as it’s our own game we have to pick up,” Jonathan Toews said. “You saw it in the third: We played with some hunger, some intensity. It’s one thing to roll four lines, but in the third all four were engaged and trying to create something. Not only that, we were playing more responsibly in our zone. At that point, we were slowly starting to take over the game. We just didn’t find a way.”