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Blackhawks blank Senators for third straight victory

A lot can happen in 42 games. Win streaks and losing skids, injuries and trades, shootouts and slugfests. But as the Blackhawks approach the halfway point of the season, the meat-grinder of the Central Division suddenly doesn’t seem so daunting, and the early season concerns suddenly don’t seem so worrying.

The Blackhawks won their third straight game on Sunday evening, as Corey Crawford blanked the Ottawa Senators 3-0 for his sixth shutout of the season — already two more than his career high. With the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues each having lost two straight, the Hawks find themselves in a tie for second with the Blues (with a game in hand) and within 10 points of the front-running Stars.

It’s not exactly time for the playoff push yet, but after a shaky, shuffling start to the season, the Hawks seem to have settled on a lineup and are comfortably in playoff position, 11 points clear of sixth-place Colorado.

“I don’t think we’re ever comfortable where we’re at,” said Duncan Keith, who scored the first goal of the game in the second period of a sleepy affair at a quiet United Center. “We always want to keep on getting as high as we can in the standings. We know that it’s basically halfway, but there’s lots of things we need to improve on and tweak and work on before you start talking about playoffs. It’s going to be a hard-fought race all the way to the end. We just want to use this month, when we have lots of games, to try to get as many wins as we can.”

So far, so good. The Hawks beat Arizona in a wild shootout, then scrambled for an overtime victory at Colorado, before smothering the Senators on Sunday. They just keep finding ways to win.

“Not every night, but that’s what we try to do,” Keith said.

The one consistent all season has been Crawford (26 saves). He never had more than four shutouts in a season before, but now he has four in his last 10 games. The Senators didn’t challenge him too much — they missed the net on a whopping 39 of their 65 shot attempts — but when challenged, Crawford came up big. His best stop came on Max McCormick on the doorstep late in the second period. Crawford slid over to his right in anticipation of a pass when he saw the Ottawa puck-carrier’s stick blade turn over, and was there waiting when McCormick one-timed the feed.

It was the 300th game of Crawford’s career.

“Things have gone by so fast already, to the point where I am right now,” Crawford said. “It’s just been fun the last five years here. It’s been awesome to play in Chicago. It’s just gone by so fast, though.”

The game wasn’t one for the end-of-season highlight packages, but standings points count more than style points. After the teams trudged through a dreadfully dull first period, Keith’s goal from just inside the blue line at 8:13 of the second period gave the Hawks a 1-0 lead. Artem Anisimov gave the Hawks a two-goal cushion at 6:01 of the third when he put in a Michal Rozsival rebound; it was his third goal in as many games. And the suddenly red-hot Andrew Desjardins scored an empty-netter in the final minute for his fourth goal in three games.

And halfway home, the Hawks appear to be hitting their stride, with another reinforcement on the way in Richard Panik, acquired from Toronto Sunday night for Jeremy Morin.

“There were some ups and downs,” Keith said. “We’ve done some good things, but we know that we can get better.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus