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Blackhawks 5, Canadiens 1: Corey Crawford backstops Hawks to win

Blackawks winger Patrick Kane is tripped by Montreal defenseman Josh Gorges second period Chicago Blackhawks 5-1 wover Montreal Canandiens Wednesday

Blackawks winger Patrick Kane is tripped by Montreal defenseman Josh Gorges in the second period of the Chicago Blackhawks 5-1 win over the Montreal Canandiens Wednesday December 21, 2011 at the United Center. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 23, 2012 11:07AM

All eyes were on Corey Crawford. After not playing in more than two weeks, Crawford was back in the Blackhawks’ goal Wednesday against the Montreal Canadiens at the United Center.

There were plenty of questions.

How would he move and see the puck after such a long layoff? Will he put too much pressure on himself to do well? Would the extra work in practices with goalie coach Stephane Waite pay off? How is his confidence?

Crawford, still considered the Hawks’ No. 1 goalie, answered those questions and erased some doubts with a solid 20-save performance in the Hawks’ 5-1 victory.

In other words, Crawford is just fine.

“Corey is a great goalie,” forward Patrick Sharp said. “He was excited to get back in there. He’s from the Montreal area, so that makes things even better.”

Sharp, Andrew Brunette, Viktor Stalberg, Bryan Bickell and Jonathan Toews (empty-netter) scored for the Hawks, who enter the Christmas break with an 8-1-1 record in December and the most points in the NHL with 48.

“Our team has been playing so well, but I was pretty hungry to get back in there,” Crawford said. “It’s a huge game before the break to get some points.”

The Canadiens have struggled and were missing some offensive threats against the Hawks, but Crawford still had to come through with key stops. Crawford’s best save came in the second period when winger Max Pacioretty had an open net. But Crawford leaped back and tipped Pacioretty’s shot with his stick.

“It was a funny little rebound that kicked to the side,” said Crawford, who also made tough stops on Michael Cammalleri in close in the first period and another on Erik Cole on a breakaway early in the third. “I just tried to get over there as quick as I could and get my stick in the right spot.”

The entire game felt good for Crawford, who allowed three goals on 16 shots and was chased in his last start Dec. 5 against the Phoenix Coyotes. After that, the Hawks turned to backup Ray Emery, whose five-game winning streak came to an end Tuesday in Pittsburgh, as coach Joel Quenneville rode the hot hand.

Quenneville praised Crawford for his approach throughout the whole process, saying many times that he wasn’t worried about how the 26-year-old was handling sitting out.

“He looked sharp; he looked quick and big in the net,” Quenneville said. “It’s good to see him come back the way he did. I commended him throughout that process with how mentally he was focused, ready and prepared.”

The only goal Crawford allowed came during a Canadiens power play in the second period as Andrei Kostitsyn redirected in a nice goal at the 5:35 mark.

Crawford kept things close before the Hawks broke out and scored five unanswered goals, including their first two in a 21-second span in the second.

Did Crawford need a good win for his confidence?

“Oh, definitely,” Crawford said. “It was a game for me personally where I had to come up with a solid game. But I wasn’t holding my stick tight. I was pretty relaxed out there and pretty confident.”

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