Corey Crawford returned to practice on Thursday after getting cleared from his upper-body injury. He felt good, he said. It was just his timing he thought was a little off.
Apparently, his timing has caught up again.
Crawford stopped all 28 shots he faced for his second shutout of the season, and Andrew Shaw had the game-winner as the Chicago Blackhawks beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 1-0 on Sunday. The Blackhawks improved their league-record start, now 18 straight games without a regulation loss (15-0-3).
The Blackhawks were without Dave Bolland, who is day-to-day from an upper-body injury suffered against San Jose on Friday. Coach Joel Quenneville said he wasn’t sure what Bolland’s status was for Monday night’s game against the Edmonton Oilers. In his place, Marcus Kruger was a strong replacement at second-line center.
And it was secondary scoring once again for the Blackhawks, as Shaw scored on a beautiful feed from Bryan Bickell in the second period. Crawford, and the Blackhawks’ defense, did the rest.
“He was good tonight. He was quick, big, especially on side-to-side plays,” coach Joel Quenneville said of Crawford. “He tracked the puck extremely well. It looked like he wasn’t off for any time at all. He had a couple of days there (to prepare) and was ready. Great response.”
For Crawford, playing in his first game in nearly two weeks after getting hurt Feb. 12 against Anaheim, the injured but determined Blue Jackets provided a good test. Crawford was up to it, staying poised and making some of his best saves during the Blackhawks’ five penalty kills.
“It was pretty exciting to get back into it. It seems like things haven't changed. Everyone's playing hard, making the right plays, not turning pucks over and guys are coming back to help out our ‘D,’” said Crawford, who added he felt good tonight.
“A couple of times I kind of got out of the net there in the first,” he said. “But was able to get the timing back pretty quick.”
But if Crawford thought he was off in his first practice, his teammates disagreed.
“His first practice back was one of the best I’ve seen from him, so I knew he was ready,” said defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, who had a game-high six blocked shots. “He’s been so solid for us.”
So was the penalty kill, again, although the Blackhawks once again would’ve liked to stay out of the bog more often.
Shaw, meanwhile, was in the right place at the right time for the Bickell feed for his fourth goal of the season.
“He saw me coming,” Shaw said of Bickell. “Bicks heard me yelling and just made a great pass. He put it in a perfect area.”
There’s been a lot of perfect things for the Blackhawks in this early season. Well, there’ve been a couple bumps, too, but they’ve found a way to get past them. The total team effort was there again on Sunday night. And for their No. 1 goaltender, it was a very welcome return.
“As a defenseman, it’s huge to have a goalie you can trust every day, and that’s exactly how it is right now,” Hjalmarsson said. “If you make a mistake, Corey’s going to save it. He’s a huge part of our success so far.”