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Corey Crawford flies like an Eagle with 42 saves in SO victory

On a night when the Blackhawks honored Hall of Fame goalie Eddie Belfour with “One Last Shift,” Corey Crawford provided the most fitting tribute. He responded after a tough game against the Canucks with a standout performance in a 3-2 shootout victory over the Stars on Thursday night at the United Center.

Two nights after getting pulled when he allowed four goals — none of them soft — on 10 shots against the Canucks, Crawford was back to normal against the Stars. He stopped 42-of-44 shots in regulation and overtime, then capped the victory by stopping Jamie Benn and Ales Hemsky on back-to-back shootout attempts. The Hawks were outshot 44-26, yet won for the 18th time in 22 games (18-3-1).

“He was amazing — the reason we won the game,”  said forward Patrick Kane, who scored his 33rd goal of the season in the first period and added a clutch shootout goal. “Hats off to him. He’s done a lot for us this year. For a goalie, it’s probably tough to show up every night — and even the goals he let in [against the Canucks], you can’t put all the blame on him. But he was outstanding [Thursday night].” 

Crawford was a reluctant hero. He was not available for comment after the game. But his coaches and teammates appreciated the performance.

Blackhawks rookie Ryan Hartman (left) tangles with Stars defenseman Dan Hamhuis (right) in the second period Thursday night at the United Center. (Nam Y. Huh/AP)

“Real good response,” said coach Joel Quenneville, whose team was outshot in every period — 13-7, 14-7, 11-9 and 6-3. “Not many positives tonight, but that certainly was one of them.”

With the win, the Hawks (48-20-6, 102 points) moved eight points ahead of the Wild (44-23-6, 94) in the Central Division with eight games to play. The Wild have one game in hand.

Marian Hossa scored for the second consecutive game after missing two games with an injury. After Jonathan  Toews missed in the shootout and Tyler Seguin scored to give the Stars an initial advantage, Kane and Artemi Panarin beat Kari Lehtonen with backhand shots to give Crawford a chance to clinch it.

Crawford was strong throughout, but made his biggest saves toward the end. After Hemsky tied the game 2-2 with a wide-open tap-in of a rebound with 5:09 left in regulation, Crawford  stopped Brett Ritchie on a mini-breakaway with 4:24 to play. He also stopped Remi Elie on a breakaway and denied the Stars on a three-shot flurry in overtime to keep the Hawks in it.

“We didn’t have the best game, and Crow was strong for us,” Hossa said. “Definitely he made some huge saves, especially in the shootout.”

The game featured a surprising fight between rookie Ryan Hartman and Stars veteran defenseman Dan Hamhuis in the second period. Hartman actually got the best of Hamhuis, but the Stars tied the game 1-1 on Hemsky’s first goal just 40 seconds after both players went to the penalty box.

The Hawks have a stranglehold on the division lead and are keeping an eye on the President’s trophy.  They trail the Capitals (104 points) by two points and are tied with the Penguins (102). 

But after struggling to get five points out of three consecutive games against the Avalanche, Canucks and Stars, the Hawks are mostly concerned with regaining the form that started this streak in February and early March.

“Division is what we’re concentrating on. We’ll see what happens outside of that,” Quenneville said. “We’ve had a fortunate point number in this home stand. But our concern is, let’s get our play back to that pace we had for a big stretch.”