2 in 21 gives 'excellent' Crawford win in return

619366.png

2 in 21 gives 'excellent' Crawford win in return

Corey Crawford waited. And waited. And waited.

The Blackhawks No. 1 goaltender just wanted to get back into the net, wanted to get back to playing the way he did at the end of last season and the beginning of this one.

On Wednesday, he did.

Crawford stopped 20 of 21 shots, some in strong fashion, and the Blackhawks scored two goals within 21 seconds of each other in their 5-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens. The Blackhawks went into the break the way they hoped, with a stronger showing than in Pittsburgh on Tuesday and with the most points in the NHL (48).

And Crawford got his desired result, too. The Blackhawks No. 1 netminder struggled in November, and backup Ray Emerys hot streak meant Crawford had to bide his time to play again. It was a long wait, and Crawford was glad it was over.

I was pretty hungry to get back in there, Crawford said. I was trying to get into it early, just to get some feeling back. Its not the same as working hard in practice. Youve still got to get some time in the game.

Andrew Brunette and Patrick Sharp scored those two quick goals for the Blackhawks. Viktor Stalberg, Jonathan Toews and Bryan Bickell added third-period goals.

Crawford was officially back midway through the second period, when he got a stick on Max Paciorettys shot, which seemed destined for the back of the empty net.

I thought it was a goal, I thought (Pacioretty) was celebrating, but Crawford made a great stop, defenseman Brent Seabrook said. When things like that happen, it gives you momentum.

The Blackhawks, down 1-0 at that point, turned that momentum into offense. About a minute later Brunettes shot bounced off Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban and past goaltender Peter Budaj to tie it. Then Sharp added his game-winner 21 seconds later.

Teammates were understandably happy for Crawford.

Hes used to playing a lot so not easy for goaltenders to watch a lot of hockey and then go in there and try and play with confidence, Toews said. Its great to see him get the win and we definitely wanted to help him out there.

The Blackhawks enter their long break with the victory they wanted. Crawford came out of his long break with the victory he needed.

It was an excellent game for him and us, coach Joel Quenneville said. He looked sharp, looked quick and was big in the net as well. It was good to see him come back the way he did. I commend him throughout that process how mentally he was focused and prepared. He did a great job.

Briefly

Sharps baby girl, Madelyn Grace, was at her first Blackhawks game on Wednesday night. Sharp said her first game I get a goal. Hopefully shes up late and sleeps all through the night.

Quenneville was happy with the game of Brandon Pirri, who was called up Wednesday morning. I thought he did a great job. He was smart, made some good plays and had more speed than I previously saw.

Marian Hossa assisted on Sharps goal to extend his point streak to seven games.

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks look to bounce back vs. Lightning tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks look to bounce back vs. Lightning tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. How will Blackhawks respond to worst loss of season?

The Blackhawks suffered their worst loss of the season on Saturday in a 7-0 rout at the hands of the Panthers. It was the first time they've lost by at least seven goals since 2011 when Edmonton beat them 9-2 and the first time they lost 7-0 since 2001 against San Jose; the Blackhawks lost to Washington 6-0 earlier this year. But by no means was Saturday their worst effort of the season. A questionable interference penalty by Marcus Kruger led to a two-man advantage, which Florida cashed in on with a goal and another shortly after, and it opened up the floodgates. Expect a big bounce-back against a hungry Lightning team.

2. Lightning fighting for playoff lives.

Every game is a must-win for the Lightning with eight games remaining on their schedule. They're three points out of the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference with a game in hand on the Bruins, who currently occupy that spot, but still have to jump the Islanders. The Lightning didn't do themselves any favors by losing three straight in regulation last week, but they've won two in a row and tonight will be the first of a four-game homestand for them.

3. Keep the puck off Nikita Kucherov's stick.

There isn't a hotter player in the NHL right now than Kucherov, who has seven goals and two assists in his last four games. He's had two hat tricks in the past month, and he ranks sixth in the league with 78 points and second in goals with 38. You know how lethal Artemi Panarin's slapshot is from the left faceoff circle? That's Kucherov, but on the right side.

4. Staying disciplined.

The Blackhawks are the second-least penalized team in the league, but they acted out of character Saturday by racking up 30 penalty minutes. They were also slapped with a pair of unsportsmanlike penalties, which isn't something you normally see from Joel Quenneville's teams. Ryan Hartman, who along with Marcus Kruger was penalized for "yapping" at the officials, accepted responsibility for it after the game, and insisted it "won't happen again."

5. Special teams to play key factor?

On the flip side, the Lightning are the second-most penalized team, averaging just over 11 penalty minutes per game. Power plays will be key for the Blackhawks in an effort to keep Tampa Bay's collection of talented young goal scorers off the ice. The Lightning also boast a top-five power play unit with a 22 percent success rate. Both teams would be better served staying out of the box and making this a 5-on-5 battle.

- Check out the latest stats and standings to make sure you’re ready for action

- Channel Finder: Make sure you know where to watch

- NBC Sports App FAQ: All your questions answered

- Latest on the Blackhawks: All of the most recent news and notes

- See what Blackhawks fans are talking about before, during and after the game with Blackhawks Pulse

Will lopsided loss shake Blackhawks from their slumber?

Will lopsided loss shake Blackhawks from their slumber?

The Blackhawks have talked the past several games now about how they need to play better, how they need to get back to their 60-minute game. But even when you tell yourself you have to improve the message doesn't always translate into immediate action. That's especially true if, despite so-so play, you're still managing victories or still eking out a point.

Sometimes, you need a jolt to realize you have to get better. Well, that thud the Blackhawks made in South Florida ought to get their attention. 

The Blackhawks' 7-0 loss to the Florida Panthers on Saturday night, that "ugly, ugly game," as coach Joel Quenneville, is the latest in what's been a mediocre stretch for the team. They've been leaning on their goaltending again (please see Minnesota, Montreal, Ottawa and Dallas games). Or they've been leaning on their ability to wake up in the third period after sleepwalking through the first two. Sixty-minute games and four-line rotations, such a big part of the Blackhawks' success through February and early March, have been absent.

Call it the Blackhawks' mid-March malaise.

[VIVID SEATS: Buy Blackhawks tickets] 

It hasn't been more painful because the Blackhawks have still found ways to get points. Or at least they did until Saturday night, when two "yapping" penalties – Quenneville's (accurate) description of Ryan Hartman and Marcus Kruger's unsportsmanlike calls – started the Blackhawks' demise against the Panthers. Players told the traveling media following the game that this was a wake-up call. It ought to be.

Granted, the Blackhawks' late-season issues aren't as bad as some of their fellow Western Conference teams. The Minnesota Wild are 3-10-1 in March. The San Jose Sharks have lost six in a row. This also isn't the first time the Blackhawks have gone through this late-season mediocrity.

Entering the 2015 postseason they struggled to score goals and lost four in a row (five goals in those four games). It turned out alright. Still, best to avoid bad habits.

Perhaps the Blackhawks are in a bit of a swoon because, really, there's not much for which to play in these final few games. They don't care if they win the Presidents' Trophy (and they probably won't). They're currently in first place by seven points following the Wild's 3-2 overtime loss to Detroit on Sunday. Whether the Blackhawks finish first or second, they'll start this postseason at home. 

So is this panic-inducing? No. Is it a concern? Certainly. The Blackhawks can't start thinking they'll automatically flip the switch as soon as the postseason begins.

The Blackhawks want to get their four-line rotation going again. Artem Anisimov returning in the next week or two will certainly help that. They want to get their overall game going again. The Blackhawks have been telling themselves what needs to be done for a few games now. Maybe they needed a wake-up call. On Saturday, they got it.