Two tired hockey teams crawling to the finish of a brutal January took the ice Sunday night at the United Center. And one very fresh Corey Crawford.
“I feel good. I’m having fun,” Crawford said. “Having fun playing hockey.”
When the Hawks needed it most, Crawford was a one-man rejuvenator — getting the Hawks through a sluggish first period before goals by Artemi Panarin and Andrew Shaw made the difference in a 2-0 victory Sunday night before 22,138 at the United Center.
In all, Crawford stopped 25 shots for his NHL-leading seventh shutout of the season and 10th victory in his last 11 starts. After losses to the Lightning (2-1) with Crawford and the Panthers (4-0) with Scott Darling after a 12-game winning streak, the Hawks needed this one.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Shaw, whose deflection of a Marian Hossa slap shot on a power play gave the Hawks a 2-0 lead at the 4:56 mark of the third period. “He’s been our best player for the past few months. It’s unbelievable how great he’s playing — stopping pucks he can’t see and standing on his head day-in and day-out.”
The Hawks (33-15-4), playing their 13th game in 22 days, weren’t all that much better in the first period Sunday than their listless effort against the Panthers on Friday night in Miami. But the Blues (28-16-8) were similarly weary, playing their 16th game in 30 days. So while the Hawks were down 3-0 against the Panthers after a bad first period on Friday, they were tied 0-0 after getting outplayed and outshot 12-6 — the Blues had an 11-2 advantage at one point — in the first period Sunday night.
“I liked our response,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “It took us a while to get going. But both teams playing [a league-high] 52 games in a short amount of time, you could see stretches where both teams … didn’t have the energy and speed in their overall game. I thought we lost some momentum after the Tampa Bay game [that snapped a 12-game winning streak] and getting back on track was important for us.”
Crawford’s 2.08 goals-against average ranks eighth in the NHL. His .931 save percentage is third.
“Those saves early on, they could change the tide of the game,” defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk said. “Rather than chasing the game the whole time, you can just kind of settle in, and play the way you want to. He always seems to come up with the big saves in big moments.”
It was no surprise that the Hawks second line of Panarin, Patrick Kane and Artem Anisimov finally broke through in the second period with a goal that typified the “Sedin-like” chemistry between the two talented players. Kane set it up with a nifty backhand pass from the right faceoff circle to Panarin at the left faceoff circle and Panarin one-timed it past Brian Elliott to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead at the 15:26 mark. It was Panarin’s 17th goal — tops among NHL rookies. And Kane’s league-leading 43rd assist and 73rd point. He also leads the NHL with 30 goals.
“Special play,” Quenneville said. “The anticipation between the two is Sedin-like. And [the] one-timer, great shot, may have gone off a stick [Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk]. But the thought process of getting into that position … their play recognition, patience level with the puck between each other … it’s been a real good line.”
Shaw scored on a power play off Hossa’s big shot from the right faceoff circle to make it 2-0 and the Hawks’ defense and Crawford did the rest.
“His consistency has been great — winning game and keeping us in games,” Quenneville said. “He did a good job of solidifying that first period, knowing we weren’t great, keeping it [0-0] was a victory for us mentally.”
The Hawks still have one more game before they can catch their breath over the All-Star break — Tuesday night against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena in Raleigh. That concludes a post-Christmas stretch of 17 games in 31 days. After Tuesday night, the Hawks will play 11 games in the next 35 days.
“[The way] we look at it, we have five days off [for the All-Star break] so we might as well blow it all in Carolina and end it on a good note,” Shaw said. “Get some rest over the break and get re-energized for the next part of the season.”