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Blackhawks lose Crawford, rout Panthers

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- It was the kind of game the Chicago Blackhawks needed from their special-teams units, but their 6-2 blowout win against the Florida Panthers on Sunday may prove costly.

Already playing without power forward Bryan Bickell (knee) and veteran backup goalie Nikolai Khabibulin (lower body), the Blackhawks lost goalie Corey Crawford to a lower-body injury in the first period of the win at United Center.

"I haven't talked to the [doctors], but I don't think it's too serious," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "When it's a goalie, it's a little more serious than other players because of how important he is to our team."

The Blackhawks (21-6-5) entered the game with the NHL's 29th-ranked penalty kill (71.8 percent) and had allowed at least one power-play goal the previous four games. Chicago killed off all five shorthanded situations and went 3-for-4 with the man advantage against Florida.

"It shows how important special teams can be in the course of a game, not only the power play, scoring, but our penalty kill had some big kills," said forward Patrick Sharp, who scored a goal and finished with three points. "It's not always the most important thing in the game, but it helped us out big time."

Brent Seabrook, Marian Hossa, Michal Handzus, Andrew Shaw and Brandon Saad also scored for the Blackhawks, who were bolstered by three assists from Patrick Kane and two assists from captain Jonathan Toews.

Scott Clemmensen made 26 saves for Florida (9-17-5), which got goals from former Blackhawks prospect Dylan Olsen and Marcel Goc. The loss halted the Panthers' two-game winning streak.

Despite the improved play by the Blackhawks' struggling penalty-kill units, the focus was on Crawford's injury after the game.

"That's the first thing everybody wants to know," Quenneville said. "You're concerned. We'll have a better assessment [Monday].

Crawford left with 6:15 remaining in the first period after making a right pad save to deny Goc's wrist shot from the low slot. He dropped to the ice and was unable to get up on his own after pushing off to move left to right across the crease.

Rookie Antti Raanta made 29 saves and picked up his third win this season in relief of Crawford, who leads the NHL with 17 wins. If the Blackhawks have to lean on Raanta, who was signed last spring from the Finnish Elite League, the 24-year-old said he's ready for the role.

"That's the job that I came here to do," Raanta said. "If they think I'm going to the net [for Crawford], I'm going to the net and I'll try to be as good as possible."

The Blackhawks will not practice Monday, so an update on Crawford will likely not come until the team's morning skate prior to a game Tuesday against the Dallas Stars.

Chicago also had a brief injury scare halfway through the third period, when former Blackhawks forward Jimmy Hayes knocked Raanta's mask off on a rush to the net.

Raanta was fine, but he stayed down on the ice long enough to make some on the Blackhawks bench wonder who would get the call if an emergency goalie was needed. Quenneville didn't want to find out.

"There'd be some volunteers [on the bench], for sure," Quenneville said. "Probably a lot of guys would try to jump in there. It probably would be fun, but a little bit too much fun for me."

Relieving Crawford wasn't exactly a barrel of laughs for Raanta, even though he inherited the 2-0 lead the Blackhawks had built on power-play goals by Sharp and Seabrook. Sharp and Marcus Kruger were called for back-to-back penalties right after the young Finn entered the game.

Raanta made three saves and the Blackhawks killed off the penalties to preserve the 2-0 lead.

Hossa made it 3-0 by swatting in the rebound of a shot by Saad off a 2-on-1 rush 37 seconds into the second period before the Panthers countered with two of their own.

Olsen, traded along with Hayes to Florida on Nov. 15 in a deal that brought Kris Versteeg back to Chicago, made it 3-1 at 4:05 with his second goal in as many games. Goc scored at 9:37 to pull the Panthers within a goal.

"Their first two goals are on the power play, which is tough to give up," said Olsen, who was on the ice for both. "We knew going into the second period that we needed to get one and build from there. I thought after we got one, everyone picked up their pace, picked up the tempo. We took it to them there for a while. Like I said, they've got a skilled team over there and a good power play."

Chicago can also score in bunches at even strength, as Handzus proved at 17:26 of the second. He countered Goc's goal by whacking a loose rebound in the crease into the net for a 4-2 lead and his second of the season.

Shaw, after missing two straight games with an upper-body injury, made it 5-2 with the third power play goal 2:44 into the third period and Saad scored on a breakaway with 56 seconds left to make it 6-2.

"It was good to break the losing streak that we were on, a couple tough games," Sharp said. "It was nice to rebound with the win. Obviously, we're a little concerned to see how [Crawford's] going to react to whatever happened there early in the game. We'll take the two points and, I guess, evaluate Crow [later]."

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