Blackhawks trying to sign Corey Crawford to long-term deal

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The Blackhawks running with a hot rookie goaltender down the stretch isn’t anything new for hockey fans. Last year, it was Antti Niemi who snatched the starting job from Cristobal Huet mid-season and led them all the way to the Cup. The Blackhawks are hoping to catch the same kind of lightning from Corey Crawford in this year’s playoffs. The difference, however, is that the Blackhawks may have learned their lesson last year and are trying to lock-up the rookie netminder before a good playoff performance could price him out of town. They’ve seen it before. They probably don’t want to see it again (the goaltender leaving thing, not the Cup thing).

The 26-year-old pending restricted free agent is currently bringing in $800,000. Needless to say, his stellar season has him in line for a raise. Stan Bowman sat down with Chris Boden of CSNChicago.com to discuss the Blackhawks’ plans with Crawford.

“We’ve reached out and we’re gonna try to do something here. The timing is delicate and you don’t want it to become a distraction but we certainly have an interest in trying to get something done. I think he’s performed very well for us this year. Looking back from where he’s come – not only having a foothold in the NHL at the beginning, when he started a handful of games, but watching his progression as he’s gotten more responsibility, he’s risen to the challenge. That’s what you look for in goaltenders. When they get the increased workload, can they handle it? He’s kind of unflappable and doesn’t get rattled by much. I think that’s a strength of his. He’s obviously talented. He’s got the physical capabilities, but the mental side is important as well, and he’s been rock-solid for us.”

To say the time is delicate is like saying the sun is kind of hot. The Blackhawks have been one of the hottest teams in the competitive Western Conference; but they’ll need to continue their hot play down the stretch if they want to get to the playoffs to defend last June’s Stanley Cup. Going into the night, they were tied with the Kings and Predators for the 5th seed in the West—but they were also only two points ahead of the Dallas Stars who are currently in 9th place. More importantly, they’re two points into a playoff spot.

Over the course of the season, Crawford is rocking a 29-14-5 record with a .918 save percentage and a sparkling 2.28 goals against average. But the reason the timing is so interesting is that Crawford has been playing so well over the last stretch of games. In his last 15 games, he’s 11-2-2 with a pair of shutouts. But when the focus is narrowed to the last 7 games, he’s only 3-2-2 and has been pulled twice. With Bowman speaking out that they’re negotiating a contract, it’s only natural to wonder if that’s had to do anything with the recent slip in his play. Shutouts like the one he had last night against Florida will certainly quiet the questions though.

Bowman and the Blackhawks looking to lock-up a young player shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. They already have six players under contract until the end of the 2014-2015 season. They have eight players signed up through the end of the 2014 season if you include Dave Bolland and Nicklas Hjalmarsson’s contracts. Marty Turco’s contract comes off the books at the end of the season so some of the goaltender money can go to the guy they’re depending on to win games.

This offseason the Blackhawks will have to make decisions on Tomas Kopecky, Troy Brouwer, and Jordan Hendry. In addition, newcomers Michael Frolik, Chris Campoli, and Viktor Stalberg are all restricted free agents at the end of the season. But for now, it looks like Stan Bowman has chosen his top priority. Once he gets the net situation figured out for the future, he’ll be able to work on the rest of the team.

The Buzzer: Night of the goalies

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Players of the Night:

Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning: The Lightning needed Vasilevskiy to play like the NHL All-Star that he is and that’s exactly what he gave them, stopping 40 shots to help the Lightning to a 2-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. The win was important for Tampa, who regained the top spot in the NHL standings and ended a three-game slide in the process. Vasilevskiy’s league-leading seventh shutout of the season ties a franchise record.

Petr Mrazek, Detroit Red Wings: Mrazek fielded 37 shots from the New Jersey Devils on Monday night and handled each and every one of them for his second shutout in as many starts.

Nick Cousins, Arizona Coyotes: Cousins got the ball rolling for the Desert Dogs in the first period, giving them a 1-0 lead. After the Islanders tied the game in the third, Cousins put the final stamp on the game with a goal 2:21 into overtime to give Arizona their second straight win.

Comeback of the Night:

Jason Zucker, Minnesota Wild: Zucker got drilled in the head with a slap shot in the first period and had to be helped off the ice. Miraculously, Zucker returned a short time later and went on to score the game-winning goal at the 4:59 mark of the third period, breaking a 1-1 tie in the Wild’s 3-1 win against the Ottawa Senators.

Highlights of the Night:

Granlund and Dumba:

Mrazek made plenty of saves on Monday and perhaps none better than this one (Brian Boyle‘s reaction is priceless):

Ottawa Senators fans will like this, even if the end result wasn’t great:

Auston Matthews had the celebration of the night:

Factoids of the Night:

Scores:

Avalanche 4, Maple Leafs 2

Red Wings 3, Devils 0

Wild 3, Senators 1

Lightning 2, Blackhawks 0

Sabres 2, Flames 1 (OT)

Coyotes 3, Islanders 2 (OT)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Lightning end three-game skid with 2-0 win over Blackhawks

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Jon Cooper called declared that his team was “out of sync” prior to Monday night’s game in Chicago.

It’s three words that haven’t been used at all this season to describe the Tampa Bay Lightning who, up until Sunday, was known as the best team in the NHL.

The Lightning came into Monday night nursing a three-game losing streak, another foreign concept for a team saw four of its players elected to the NHL’s All-Star Game this coming weekend.

But just as quickly as they dropped out of the top spot in the NHL — the Vegas Golden Knights assumed that throne for 24 hours after a win on Sunday night — the Lightning snatched it back in a 2-0 triumph over the Chicago Blackhawks in the Windy City on Monday.

For a team that perhaps forgot how to play with one another, they looked comfortable in each other’s company against the Blackhawks.

The game was tight for the most part, and it took the Blackhawks being caught napping shorthanded to break a 0-0 deadlock late in the second period as Chris Kunitz took advantage of a defensive mishap. 

Jake Dotchin’s wrister sailed wide, but Kunitz was allowed to waltz behind the net, pick up the loose puck and put it behind Jeff Glass, nearly untouched through the whole process.

The NHL’s top goalie once again lived up to the distinction as Andrei Vasilevskiy turned aside all 40 shots that came his way.

The Blackhawks put up 10 or more shots in each of the game’s three periods, including 17 in the second frame. But the All-Star netminder played and exceptional game, including stopping 10 out of 10 on the power play to keep Chicago 0-for-6 on the power play.

Yanni Gourde sealed the game late in the third with a blast to make it 2-0.

It’s a win Tampa needed, especially after finding out they’ll miss forward Ondrej Palat indefinitely.

The struggles continued for the Blackhawks, meanwhile.

Chicago has now been shutout twice in their past three games and is on a three-game skid with a 4-5-1 record in their past 10.

The Lightning could afford their losing streak. They’ve earned an opportunity to slide a little bit.

For the Blackhawks, another loss means another chance missed trying to survive in a deeply competitive Central Division.

The Blackhawks are hanging by a thread and time is running out quickly.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

The Colorado Avalanche’s win streak hits double digits

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The streak is now in double digits.

The Colorado Avalanche won their 10th straight game on Monday night, taking down the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-2.

Yes, that’s 10 wins by the team that ended last season with an NHL-worst 48 points.

Hockey is wonderful, isn’t it?

The Avalanche have been pretty darn good during that streak, outscoring opponents 41-16 during that span. Scoring four goals per game on average will win you more than it won’t.

And the Avs have had success on the back end. Jonathan Bernier has been completely lights out during the streak. He is on a streak of his own with nine straight wins, becoming the third netminder in franchise history to win nine in a row after Stephane Fiset (9) and Patrick Roy (11).

Colorado’s streak is also an NHL-best this season and it’s the second longest streak in Avs history (they won 12 straight during the 1998-99 season).

The Avs are sitting on 57 points, good for the second wildcard spot in the Western Conference.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Jason Zucker takes a puck to the head (video)

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How in the world did he get up?

Too many players have been getting drilled in the head lately by slap shots. It’s an ugly site to behold whenever it happens

Somehow, however, Jason Zucker of the Minnesota Wild was able to pop right back up and head directly to the dressing room. No passing GO on this one.

The puck hit him so squarely in the helmet that it ricocheted back toward the Thomas Chabot, who uncorked the shot in the first place.

Even more insane is that Zucker was able to return to the game.

Talk about hard-headed.