ANDREW BRUNETTE and Patrick Sharp scored 21 seconds apart midway through the second period, and Corey Crawford made 20 saves in his first start in more than 2 weeks as the Chicago Blackhawks beat the visiting Montreal Canadiens, 5-1, last night.
Viktor Stalberg scored midway through the third period and Jonathan Toews and Bryan Bickell added late goals for NHL-leading Chicago. The Blackhawks rebounded from a 3-2 loss at Pittsburgh on Tuesday, improving to 8-1-1 in their last 10 games.
Andrei Kostitsyn scored a power-play goal for Montreal, which lost its fourth straight - including the last three since interim coach Randy Cunneyworth replaced Jacques Martin last Saturday.
Crawford hadn't played since being pulled early in the second period of a 4-3 shootout loss to Phoenix on Dec. 5 after allowing three goals on 16 shots. Backup Ray Emery finished that game, then made six consecutive starts and won five straight before losing to the Penguins.
"It felt great," Crawford said. "I was pretty hungry to get back in there. It was a huge game before the [Christmas] break to pick up points.''
Montreal backup Peter Budaj blocked 23 shots in his first start since Nov. 30. Carey Price had started the Canadiens' previous nine contests.
Neither team sustained much offensive pressure in the scoreless first period. Chicago's Duncan Keith hit the right post with a shot from the point midway through the frame.
Kostitsyn's power-play goal, on a deflection from just outside the crease, opened the scoring at 5:35 of the second. Kostitisyn tipped Tomas Plekanec's low shot from the right circle upward, off Crawford's shoulder and into the net.
Chicago took a 2-1 lead on goals scored on consecutive shots midway through the second.
Brunette was credited with tying it at 1 with 8:24 left in the period as his centering pass to Toews struck Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban's skate and deflected past Budaj.
Sharp's 18th goal made it 2-1 with 8:03 left. After skating into the Montreal zone on a 2-on-2 break, Sharp's shot hit the stick of defenseman Chris Campoli, who had belly-flopped to the ice. The puck fluttered past Budaj on the glove side.
Sharp has points in nine of his last 10 games, and eight goals and six assists in the span.
Stalberg extended Chicago's lead to 3-1 midway through the third. After Subban turned the puck over to Bickell behind the Montreal net, Bickell fed it to Stalberg, who beat Budaj on a high shot from between the circles.
Toews scored his 20th goal into an empty net with 1:17 left to make it 4-1. Bickell scored with 11.8 seconds left to complete the scoring.
In other games:
* At Denver, St. Louis mounted a second-period rally from a two-goal deficit but Jay Clement scored late in the second to give Colorado a 3-2 win over the Blues. J.S. Giguere made 37 saves for the Avalanche.
* At Raleigh, Lauri Korpikoski scored his ninth goal of the season early in the third period to lead the Phoenix Coyotes to a 4-3 win over the Carolina Hurricanes. Ray Whitney, a former Hurricanes player, also had a goal and assist for the Coyotes. Cal O'Reilly and Rostislav Klesla also scored for Phoenix.
* At Vancouver, Roberto Luongo made 38 saves as the Canucks defeated Detroit, 4-2.
Sharks forward Martin Havlat will miss up to 8 weeks following surgery today to repair a partial tear in a tendon in his left hamstring. San Jose general manager Doug Wilson said the team was prepared for the worst after Havlat injured himself jumping over the Sharks' bench during Saturday's 3-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers.