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No signs of rust for Crawford in shutout win

CHICAGO -- Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford was playing some of his best hockey through his first 10 starts of the season.

Crawford was 7-0-3, hadn’t allowed more than three goals in a game and was among the league’s leaders with a 1.65 goals-against average. He appeared more focused before and during games, and his play was more consistent than it was last season. Ten games doesn’t constitute a large sample size, but Crawford looked like the type of goalie who could lead a team to a deep playoff run.

And then Crawford got hurt. He missed four consecutive games over nearly two weeks. All of that early success he experienced and all of that rhythm he developed -- all of it could have been flushed away.

Crawford proved otherwise on Sunday.

Crawford made his first start since Feb. 12 on Sunday and picked up right where he left off. Crawford stopped all 28 shots taken by the Columbus Blue Jackets and helped the Blackhawks extend their NHL-record points streak to start the season to 18 games with a 1-0 win at the United Center.

“He was good tonight -- quick, big, especially in the side-to-side plays, the power play,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “I thought he tracked the puck extremely well. He looked like he wasn’t off any time at all. He had a couple extra days there and got ready. I liked the way he prepared going into today and had a great response.”

The Blue Jackets are a troubled offensive team – they hadn’t scored more than two goals in 11 games prior to Sunday – but the Blackhawks gave them plenty of opportunities by putting them on five power plays, including three in the third period.

Crawford and the penalty kill were up for the challenge. The Blackhawks killed off all five power plays, with Crawford making 10 saves.

“Corey was great tonight,” defenseman Duncan Keith said. “He made a lot of great saves. I don’t want to discredit Columbus. They got a hard-working team. They had some chances, and he made some great saves.”

Crawford said after his first practice last week he was concerned about regaining his rhythm after the layoff. He admitted Sunday he felt a bit shaky early in the first period.

“A couple times I slid out of the net in the first period,” said Crawford, whose goals-against average improved to 1.50 and his save percentage to .941. “I was able to settle down pretty quickly. Overall, I felt pretty good.”

Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said he never doubted Crawford would be back in form so quickly.

“It’s impressive,” Hjalmarsson said. “I said it before, the first practice when he came back -- I thought it was one of the best practices I’ve seen from him, so I knew he was ready. It’s just a matter of the other guys in front of him doing their job. He’s been unbelievable so far.”

Crawford recorded his second shutout of the season after not having one last season, but he wouldn’t accept any individual recognition even with that. He was just happy to be playing again.

“It was pretty exciting to get back into it,” Crawford said. “It seems like things haven’t changed. Everyone is playing hard, making the right plays, not turning the puck over, and guys are coming back to help on D. Our D is good this year -- blocking shots, sticks in lanes. It’s just another solid victory for us.”