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Corey Crawford spectacular as Blackhawks win ninth straight

MONTREAL — Joel Quenneville became the second-winningest coach in NHL history on Thursday night, passing one of the great icons of the game, Al Arbour. The Blackhawks won their ninth straight game, too, moving into a tie for first place with the Dallas Stars, something that was unthinkable just a few weeks ago, when they trailed by 13 points.

But the story of Thursday night’s 2-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens — as it always seems to be these days — was Corey Crawford. The Hawks’ red-hot goalie was terrific yet again in a 39-save performance.

“Corey was spectacular tonight,” Quenneville said.

In his hometown of Montreal, with his boyhood hero Patrick Roy’s banner hanging directly above him and nearly 30 friends and family in attendance, Crawford put on a virtuoso performance in the second period at Bell Centre. Sliding, flopping, swatting and kicking, Crawford managed to keep the Canadiens at bay for a 20-minute onslaught. And on the one mistake he made, he caught a break as Tomas Plekanec fumbled the puck into the post on what should have been a gimme putt.

Something about those tricolore sweaters brings out the best in Crawford, who is now 4-0-2 an eye-popping 958 save percentage in his career against the Canadiens.

“I grew up here, used to come watch games here, and it’s still kind of surreal to step on the ice and actually play a game out there,” Crawford said. “I don’t think that’ll change any time soon.”

Quenneville’s spot on the all-time wins list likely won’t, either. It took Arbour, the legendary Islanders coach, 22 years to win 782 games. Quenneville is in his 19th season.

“It’s happened quickly,” Quenneville said. “Been fortunate here in Chicago. [We’ve had] a lot of success, and great teams. Throughout my career I’ve been around great players and great teams. But the amazing part is how quickly it’s gone by, and how fast it’s happened. I feel fortunate, and excited, as well.”

This one played out like most of the Hawks’ wins on this remarkable run. The Hawks’ red-hot top line got things going in the first period, as Andrew Shaw threaded a slick little pass across the crease to Jonathan Toews, who had snuck behind the defense and potted the puck for his 17th goal. Toews has six goals and five assists since Shaw was put on the top line at the start of the win streak, and passed Patrick Sharp for 11th on the all-time Hawks goal list with the tally, the 240th of his career.

Toews didn’t know that little fact.

“I’m sure he might be aware of that one, though,” he said with a smirk.

Montreal tied it up two minutes later, as Paul Byron crashed the net hard and knocked in a bouncing David Desharnais shot that Crawford couldn’t corral. But the Hawks took the lead right back, as Ryan Garbutt capped a terrific shift by the usually quiet fourth line by ripping a shot from the left circle past Mike Condon for a 2-1 lead. It was just Garbutt’s second goal of the season, with Michal Rozsival picking up just his third assist and Richard Panik his first of the season.

Then came the second period, and a fired-up Montreal team that had lost nine of its last 12 games. Crawford was a one-man show, particularly during a wild flurry in which he stopped four point-blank shots in six seconds, including three in a row from a flabbergasted Tomas Fleischmann.

It was more of the same in the third, as Crawford robbed Daniel Carr on the doorstep and wrangled a strong shot by Plekanec. Condon held up his end of the bargain, making multiple stops on Marian Hossa and denying Andrew Desjardins on a rush with Teuvo Teravainen. Crawford made one last big stop at 14:05, making a tricky save while Plekanec stood behind him, waiting for a loose puck that never came.

Just another day at the rink for Crawford, in Montreal or anywhere else these days.

“It’ll never get old,” Crawford said. “Having my family and friends come to watch me play here is pretty special. That’ll never change.”


Twitter: @marklazerus