Crawford puts on a show as Hawks stay hot

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Crawford puts on a show as Hawks stay hot

DENVER -- Every team benefits from a good give and take. And after Corey Crawford gave the Blackhawks the early bail-out, his teammates took control with a stellar third period.

Patrick Sharp scored the go-ahead goal about halfway through the third period and Crawford stopped 31 of 32 shots in the Blackhawks 3-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday night. The Blackhawks collected four points on this two-game road trip and also ended the Avs' five-game winning streak.

But it wasn't looking that way early, when the Avalanche were controlling the tempo and spending tons of time in the Blackhawks' zone. Crawford stood up to the barrage, stopping the Avs on all 13 first-period shots they had.

Even the one goal he did give up, a Ryan O'Byrne tally in the second period, was an odd one that went off O'Byrne's body and past Crawford.

"We weathered that storm with him holding the fort. It was very sloppy. We were in their end the first 10 minutes," coach Joel Quenneville said. "He was strong all game long. His position was so good."

Crawford said he's felt strong to start every game this season, including Thursday.

"I'm able to feel like that right at the start of the game and that's important to have a good feeling right off the top of the bat," he said.

Marian Hossa scored an empty-net, short-handed goal to secure the game. Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov was as strong as Crawford, stopping 27 of 29, some in grand fashion.

Once the Blackhawks got past their early sluggishness -- and the relentless attack from the Avalanche -- they started to find their groove. They were once again getting contributions across the board, including their top line. Jonathan Toews scored his third of the season off a Daniel Carcillo feed to give the Blackhawks an early lead.

"We know we just have to keep working hard. Even tonight we could've had two or three more," Toews said. "It's a good sign when you're around the net. You know where two linemates are, you're not letting the other team kill your plays too quickly, and you're going to eventually get scoring chances."

Sharp's goal came from the left point, a typically successful place for him. Sharp, who got the rebound off Andrew Brunette's shot that Varlamov fought off, nearly passed the puck off.

"I knew (Varlamov) was maybe not down and out but recovering. He made a big save on Bruno and I wanted to pass to (Duncan Keith) but I thought maybe a quick shot would sneak past him or create a rebound or something," he said.

The Blackhawks are finding early season success because they're not just relying on one person. Yes, Crawford probably had to do too much early again, but the help eventually came. Be it the forward lines or defensive pairings, the Blackhawks are feeling good in their setup.

"We've had different lines contributing every night and that's just what we need," Toews said. "We had a great little two-game road trip. We want to win a lot early and put ourselves in good position."

Resilient Wild make statement with comeback win over Blackhawks

Resilient Wild make statement with comeback win over Blackhawks

The Minnesota Wild have been chasing the Blackhawks for a long time.

They may not be so far away now.

After falling behind 2-0, the Wild scored three unanswered goals to beat the Blackhawks 3-2 at the United Center on Sunday night, and moved into sole possession of first place in the Central Division and Western Conference with 61 points, and still have four games in hand.

But even the Wild had to remind themselves that they're on the same playing surface as the Blackhawks, who eliminated Minnesota from the playoffs for three consecutive seasons from 2013-15, two of which were en route to Stanley Cup wins.

"We were pretty slow," coach Bruce Boudreau said about the team's first period. "I thought we were in a little bit of quick sand. We watched them play. I think it was a little bit more [we were] in awe. It's the Chicago Blackhawks, we're supposed to be in awe."

When they snapped out of it, the Wild looked like the team that has become one of the NHL's best, having now won 17 of their last 19 games.

Wild nemesis Patrick Kane scored the game's first two goals, but Minnesota displayed the type of resiliency every contender needs by evening it up in the second period thanks to a power-play goal by Nino Neiderreiter — his third goal in as many games — and Chris Stewart, who found the back of the net for the second consecutive contest.

Jason Pominville, who hadn't scored in 19 straight games, registered the game-winner early in the third period to cap off a Wild victory. It's Minnesota's eighth straight win against Chicago, a feat that even its coach can't explain.

"To beat this team eight times in a row is really something," Boudreau said. "I don't understand how you could do it. I wish I would have had that knowledge a couple years ago. But it's a new year and it's just one in a row right now."

That's one of many reasons why the Wild have been so successful this season. They're taking it one game at a time, and no matter what the score is, they continue to play the same way and have the belief they can win any game.

Less than 24 hours before their win over the Blackhawks, the Wild jumped out to a 4-0 lead in Dallas and squandered it in the third period. They found a way to bounce back, however, to take home a 5-4 victory in regulation.

So, how do they keep doing it?

"I don't know," Boudreau responded. "We're supposed to. If you want to win, you've got to come back, right? You got to believe. I think the biggest thing is believing you can, and that's the first step. If you don't believe you can come back, you never come back. If you always believe there's a chance, there's a good chance you can do it."

Said Stewart: "I just think we're a confident bunch. We believe in ourselves. We know we didn't get the start that we wanted, but we got one to crawl back in it and all this team needs is a little bit of life."

There's no better measuring stick than to beat a team in your division that's won three championships since 2010, and has been powerhouses in the West for nearly a decade.

And it's something the Wild hope — and believe — they're in the process of achieving.

"It's always a big rival," Neiderreiter said. "You always want to beat the Hawks. They won a few Stanley Cup in the past few years, and that's something we want to accomplish someday. To do that, we have to make sure we beat top teams like that."

Five Things from Blackhawks-Wild: Start strong, finish fizzles

Five Things from Blackhawks-Wild: Start strong, finish fizzles

Well, that weekend didn't go as planned.

The Blackhawks played a lot better on Sunday night but suffered the same fate as Friday, coming away with no points and losing first place in the Western Conference in their 3-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild.

Let's dispense with the frivolities. Here are Five Things to take away from the Blackhawks' loss to Minnesota.

1. Strong start. The Blackhawks needed to come out strong in this one, mainly because their Friday game against the Washington Capitals was so bad but also because the Wild were coming off a frenzied 5-4 victory over the Dallas Stars on Saturday night. The Blackhawks got the appropriate start, outshooting the Wild 14-8 and leading 1-0 on Patrick Kane's goal. Speaking of which… 

2. Kane with the great evening. The Blackhawks dressing seven defensemen meant one thing: Kane was probably going to get a lot of ice time. That he did, double-shifting with the second and fourth lines in the first period and giving the Blackhawks a 2-0 lead with first- and second-period goals. Kane finished with a career-high 12 shots on goal in 27:09 of ice time. "You know you're going to play a lot. I don't know if [27] minutes is that amount you want to be playing, but at the same time, you're not going to say no when he calls you to go out there too," Kane said.

3. The Wild respond in the second. Minnesota didn't have the best start but they regained momentum and erased a deficit in the second period. It's not that their chances were that much better than the Blackhawks – it was a fairly even period in every way, from shots on goal (16-15 Blackhawks) to overall play. But coach Joel Quenneville didn't like how the Blackhawks played on Nino Niederreiter or Chris Stewart's goals, calling the mistakes made on them, "cardinal sins."

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

4. Quiet night for the top line. Outside of Marian Hossa, the Blackhawks' top line didn't do much on Sunday night. Hossa had two shots on goal. Jonathan Toews had none, as it was another too-quiet night for the Blackhawks' captain. 

5. Minnesota keeps the rivalry edge. Remember those three consecutive springs in which the Blackhawks dispatched the Wild? Well, the past two seasons may not be equal in payback terms but the Wild are nevertheless tilting the rivalry – at least in regular-season games – in their favor. The Wild won all five games last season and took the first of this season, as well. Minnesota made some good offseason moves, including acquiring Eric Staal in July. Full marks to the Wild: right now, they are the cream of the Western Conference crop.