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Crawford stars in Blackhawks' win against Penguins

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- Regulation and overtime were pretty good, but the shootout was better at United Center on Sunday for a nationally televised game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks.

Each team got a goal in regulation, overtime couldn't decide a winner and the game went to a shootout that featured five goals in three rounds. The Blackhawks (35-18-4) earned the second point in a 2-1 victory, their sixth consecutive game with a point and second straight shootout win against the Penguins (32-15-9).

Goalie Corey Crawford made his lone shootout save in the top of the third round against Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang; Chicago forward Patrick Sharp followed with a wrist shot that beat Marc-Andre Fleury to end the game.

"I was excited," Sharp said. "I was glad [Crawford] made the save on the third attempt. It gave me a chance to win it. I just wanted to stay calm, stay patient and make my shot."

He did it by changing up his strategy. Sharp has used a backhand-forehand move effectively during the past two seasons, but failed to score with it in a 3-2 shootout loss against the Arizona Coyotes six days ago. That was the first of two straight shootout losses for the Blackhawks during their eight-game homestand.

"[Coyotes goalie] Mike Smith made a save on me the other night that he seemed like he knew something was coming," said Sharp, whose successful attempt Sunday prompted Fleury to smash his goal stick into the left post. "It was time to switch it up. Plus, [Patrick Kane] had just shot before me and stole my move. I had to come up with something different."

His comment about Kane was tongue-in-cheek, referring to a slow move with fancy stickhandling that's the envy of the NHL. This time, after slowing at the top of the slot, Kane stickhandled eight times before pulling the puck wide to his backhand and back the other way for the shot, avoiding Fleury's poke check and tucking the puck into the net behind the goalie's skate.

That countered Crosby's goal in the top of the second, which deflected off Crawford's left arm and flipped over his head into the net. Pittsburgh forward David Perron and Chicago captain Jonathan Toews used backhands to score in the first round.

"Your first priority is to try and score," Kane said. "That's the most important thing, but there's certain ways you can do it. I kind of have a certain mentality I've been going down with now. It's been working this season, and hopefully it continues if we get to some more shootouts."

The win improved the Blackhawks' record in shootouts to 7-2, a stark contrast to their 6-8 mark last season.

Kane has scored on six of nine attempts (66.7 percent), Toews has scored on four of nine (44.4 percent) and Sharp has buried two of his four. Crawford, one of the League's best in the tiebreaker, improved to 5-1 in shootouts and has allowed four goals on 23 attempts (.826 save percentage).

"[Toews and Kane], it's a one-two punch that's as good as any team in the League, and then [Sharp] ends up finishing it," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "We were talking about losing those extra points and how much it cost us over the course of the year [last year], and this year it's been on the plus side of things for us. I still like going to shootouts with that type of weaponry."

The Penguins have nearly as much, but have twice lost to the Blackhawks in shootouts. Chicago won 3-2 at Consol Energy Center on Jan. 21 in the final game before the All-Star break. Pittsburgh played that game without a number of injured regulars, including center Evgeni Malkin and Letang, but fielded nearly a full roster for the rematch.

It showed in how they controlled the puck and generated scoring chances. Crawford (36 saves) came up with a number of big saves to keep it close before the Blackhawks closed the gap in shots during the final few minutes of regulation and overtime.

Fleury (31 saves) had some great saves as well. Two of the biggest happened in overtime against Toews and right wing Marian Hossa, who had a four-game goal streak end (seven goals).

Defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson gave the Blackhawks the lead when he scored at 3:22 of the second period. Forward Nick Spaling tied it 1-1 at 3:54 of the third for the Penguins, who got an assist and career-high nine shots by forward Beau Bennett..

"Really, when I look at the game, it's how we play," Pittsburgh coach Mike Johnston said. "How do we play in 60 minutes? How do we play in overtime? I liked our game. That's two games we've played against this team and we've played well defensively. We had our scoring chances. We didn't convert."

Prior to the game, news broke that retired defenseman Steve Montador died early Sunday. Montador, who was 35, played with the Blackhawks in 2011-12, scoring five goals and 14 points in 52 games. Chicago also had assistant equipment manager Clint Reif die unexpectedly in December.

"We found out right before the game and it's terrible news," Sharp said of Montador's death. "It's very disappointing. It's amazing that the Blackhawks family is dealing with this again. Right now, we're thinking about Steve's family and we're going to try and support each other and get through it."

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