Crawford sharp in return to net

CHICAGO -- He admitted his pregame preparation felt a little different than usual but when Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford took the ice everything felt just fine. Crawford earned first star honors in his first game since Dec. 5, helping beat the Montreal Canadiens 5-1.

“I think I was a little more focused, a little more ready,” Crawford said afterwards. “I think that might have slipped a little bit when I was in there and I wasn’t getting the results I wanted.”

So maybe the long rest did Crawford some good. Whatever the reason, he was sharp.

“It was an excellent game for Crawford and for us,” Joel Quenneville said. “He looked sharp, looked quick, big in the net as well. Good to see him come back the way he did, and I commend him throughout that process how mentally focused and ready and prepared. He did a great job.”

Crawford stopped 20 shots but eight came off Max Pacioretty’s stick alone. You’ll excuse Pacioretty if he has nightmares of Crawford’s post-to-post save in the second period, a highlight-reel stop.

“Doesn’t happen too often,” Crawford said of his paddle save. “I was just trying to get over there as quick as I could and get a piece of it.”

He got a piece of just about everything except a deflected score by Andrei Kostitsyn in the first period. He buckled down to keep his team in it.

“I thought he was really good,” Patrick Sharp said. “He made some huge saves there in the second period to keep us ahead. I know that was a big game for him.”

It was a big game because he hadn’t played in two weeks and it was a big game because he was facing his childhood team, but mostly it was important because the whispers of a goalie controversy had started. In fact it wasn’t much of a controversy because Ray Emery was playing so well.

“It happens sometimes when things aren’t going your way and Joel decided to go a different way,” Crawford said. “It worked, the team started playing really well. It’s nice to get back in while we’re still playing well.”

Crawford said that last sentence with a smile. He knows he didn’t play well in November but neither did the Hawks in several road losses. The team’s play has turned in a home-friendly month of December and maybe so has Crawford’s. Sharp didn’t dismiss the notion the team wanted to play well for their second year netminder.

“That’s a little bit down the line,” he said. “You want to play a good game first and foremost and it’s nice now Corey can enjoy this win.”

And the Hawks just might have two goaltenders trending the right way. We’ll know more after the Christmas break but Crawford make a statement exactly when he needed to.