MONTREAL — Chicago goalie Corey Crawford says it never gets old playing in his hometown in front of family and friends at the Bell Centre.
Crawford, of nearby Chateauguay, Que., put on a show for them Thursday night with 39 saves as the Blackhawks downed the Montreal Canadiens 2-1 for their ninth straight win.
“I grew up here, I used to come watch games here and it’s still kind of surreal stepping onto the ice,” said Crawford. “I don’t think that’ll change any time soon.”
Crawford has not lost in regulation time in six career meetings with Montreal (4-0-2).
Goals in the first period from Jonathan Toews and Ryan Garbutt were all the Blawkhawks (29-13-4) needed as Crawford shut the door despite a spirited Canadiens comeback bid through the second and third periods. His biggest test came in the second period when he made four saves in rapid succession in one hectic sequence.
Paul Byron scored in the first frame for Montreal (23-18-3), who are in a 5-14 tailspin since Dec. 14 due mostly to an inability to put pucks in the net. It was the ninth time in their recent slump they scored one or fewer goals.
“The effort was there,” said coach Michel Therrien, as baffled as his players at the scoring drought. “We got lots of pucks to the net, lots of chances, but Crawford was very good.”
It was one of Montreal’s better games in recent weeks, although a slow start cost them. They skated hard, crowded the front of the net and shot often. But no one is beating the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks these days.
Chicago, which has not lost since Dec. 27 against Carolina, will try to make it 10 straight Friday night in Toronto.
“There are a lot of factors, but it seems like our team is just coming together,” Crawford said of the streak. “We’re not taking as many penalties.
“We’re playing a simple game with speed and skill. And there’s a lot more chemistry throughout the lineup.”
The win put Joel Quenneville into sole possession of second place all-time in coaching victories with 783, one more than Al Arbour although still well behind leader Scotty Bowman’s 1,244.
“Scotty’s safe,” quipped Quenneville.
“It’s pretty amazing,” said Toews, who has won three Stanley Cups under Quenneville in Chicago. “There’s been a lot of great coaches and the amount of wins he has is so rare.
“To be part of it is something special. I’ve played for him pretty much my entire career and it means a lot to be part of something like that. The success we’ve had in the playoffs goes with it.”
Shots were 40-33 in favour of the Canadiens.
The Blackhawks were first on nearly every puck to open the game and scored at 8:26 when Andrew Shaw got past P.K. Subban and fed the puck across the front of the net for Toews to bang in his 17th of the season.
Byron tied it at 10:36 when he went to the net to tip a David Desharnais feed past Crawford.
Chicago’s fourth line had Montreal hemmed in its zone for a long stretch before Garbutt beat Mike Condon from the left circle at 12:56.
The Canadiens play Saturday in St. Louis, then face the Blackhawks again Sunday in Chicago.