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."

Blackhawks notebook: A busy draft, free agency and RFAs

Blackhawks notebook: A busy draft, free agency and RFAs

Eight draft picks in about 3 ½ hours. It was a busy Saturday for the Blackhawks, and when general manager Stan Bowman talked that afternoon about the team’s Day 2 haul, he came prepared.

“I have my little cheat sheet,” Bowman said of the paper on which he had written the Blackhawks’ eight newest prospects.

After a few days’ worth of moves the Blackhawks focused on the future, taking nine players over two days at the NHL Draft. It was a successful weekend for the Blackhawks, who hosted the draft for the first time and built up assets, especially on the blue line. Five of the Blackhawks’ nine selections were defensemen.

“One of the things we talked about was looking at the market. There’s a high value on defensemen. We’re not necessarily looking at the draft but our team this year and over the next couple of years; those are the assets that are valuable around the league,” Bowman said. “Look at the trade Calgary made [for Travis Hamonic], defensemen are a valuable commodity. That was a priority coming in and we were able to accomplish it.”

What comes next

The Blackhawks got what they wanted at this weekend’s draft but the focus will soon shift, as free agency opens on July 1. It remains to be seen what the Blackhawks will have cap-wise come a week from now. Currently, according to CapFriendly.com, they’re $1.445 million over the $75 million cap. It’s doubtful the Blackhawks apply the long-term injured reserve tag on Marian Hossa during the offseason. It’s possible they could still trade Marcus Kruger to gain some space. Bowman said, one way or another, “there will be some movement.”

“We’ll bring some players in, I don’t know how many, what position or what level,” he said. “This is where there’s a lot of activity, the couple weeks in the middle of June until the middle of July. That’s when the most changes happen. We’ll go to work, now that we’re past this.”

Wait for it

The Blackhawks also have to decide whether or not to qualify restricted free agents Dennis Rasmussen and Tomas Jurco. Bowman said that’ll be decided by Monday.

“I’ve had discussions with both agents,” he said. “I don’t have an answer right now but we’ll have that worked out in the next day and a half.”

Niklas Hjalmarsson reflects on time with Blackhawks: 'I had the best time in Chicago'

Niklas Hjalmarsson reflects on time with Blackhawks: 'I had the best time in Chicago'

Niklas Hjalmarsson heard some of the rumors, but not to a large degree. The former Blackhawks defenseman wasn’t spending a lot of time on the internet reading up on his potential fate. He figured he’d still stay put in Chicago.

“But when my agent called me about the 10-team list, I understood it was serious. Stan [Bowman] wouldn’t ask for that unless they made up their mind already,” Hjalmarsson said via conference call on Saturday. “That’s when it hit me that I’m probably not going to put the Hawks jersey on anymore.”

Indeed, Hjalmarsson’s next jersey will be that of the Arizona Coyotes, who acquired him in exchange for defenseman Connor Murphy on Friday. Hjalmarsson’s departure marks the end of the line for another Blackhawks core player, and this one is jarring in how it will change the team’s defense.

Speaking of change, Hjalmarsson faces a lot of it himself now. Sure, there’s the obvious change for a guy who’s played his entire career in one place. It’s new surroundings and a new team, on which he knows former Blackhawks teammate Antti Raanta and fellow countryman Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

But the Coyotes have dealt with a lot of upheaval lately. Goaltender Mike Smith is gone. So is veteran Shane Doan. On Thursday, head coach Dave Tippett and the Coyotes parted ways.

“They’re on a rebuild, a lot of new faces, lot of changes,” Hjalmarsson said. “It’s tough to know what to expect but I think they’re a hungry organization that wants to win like other teams. I’m looking forward to try to contribute with playing my game, just try to get the organization back in the playoffs.”

Hjalmarsson should find chemistry with Ekman-Larsson – the two were teammates in the Winter Olympics in Sochi – and Hjalmarsson will likely play a bigger role with the Coyotes. Arizona will probably look to Hjalmarsson a lot during its rebuild, given his Cup-winning history.

The first 24 hours were full of mixed emotions of Hjalmarsson. With his limited no-move clause, he was always a likely candidate to be moved from a Blackhawks team laden will full no-move clauses. He’s turning a page, but he won’t forget his time in Chicago anytime soon.

“I’m trying to always be a positive guy,” Hjalmarsson said. “I spent my whole 20s in Chicago, 10 unbelievable years. I didn’t think I’d win three Cups. Hopefully I can get one more before my career is over. I had the best time in Chicago, enjoyed every single year, playing in front of the best fans in the league. I’ve been spoiled. Now it’s time for me and my family to move on and seize the opportunity in Arizona and create some new fond memories.”