Montreal Canadiens\' Max Pacioretty (67) and Chicago Blackhawks\' Viktor Stalberg (25) battle for the puck during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Chicago, Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2011. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
CHICAGO - Corey Crawford came back from his prolonged benching and immediately got his game in order.
Crawford stopped 20 shots in his first game in more than two weeks as Chicago beat the slumping Montreal Canadiens 5-1 Wednesday night.
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 at Pittsburgh on Tuesday night.
"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.
Andrew Brunette and Patrick Sharp scored 21 seconds apart midway through the second period to lead the Blackhawks. 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 the 3-2 loss to the Penguins the previous night, improving to 8-1-1 in their last 10 games.
Crawford, a Montreal native, got his groove back against the team he grew up watching.
"I was trying to get into it early just to get some feeling back," he said. "It's not the same as working hard in practice. You've still got to get some time in the game."
Crawford allowed a power-play goal to Montreal's Andrei Kostitsyn early in the second that put the Canadiens ahead 1-0.
The Blackhawks then started to take charge against Montreal, which lost its fourth straight—including the last three since interim coach Randy Cunneyworth replaced Jacques Martin last Saturday.
And Crawford wasn't beat again.
"It was an excellent game for him and for us," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "It was good to see him come back the way he did.
"I commend him throughout that process; how he was mentally focused, ready and prepared."
Montreal backup Peter Budaj stopped 23 shots in his first start since Nov. 30. Carey Price had started the Canadiens' previous nine contests.
Budaj kept the game close until Stalberg made it 3-1 at 10:29 of the third.
"I think things were still going in the right direction until about the middle part of the third period," Cunneyworth said. "About the 10-minute mark we let things fall by the wayside a little bit."
Some of the Canadiens players let their emotions show in the dressing room after the loss.
"We have some angry guys in there. Some frustrated guys, because we want better results," Cunneyworth said. "We'll see if we can kind of turn it in our direction and use that frustration to our advantage tomorrow (in Winnipeg), but obviously we have to get our heads into it for a complete game"
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 centring pass to Toews struck Montreal defenceman 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 defenceman 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 makeit 4-1. Bickell scored with 11.8 seconds left to complete the scoring.
NOTES: Chicago's Marian Hossa had an assist to extend his point streak to seven games. He has four goals and eight assists in the span. . Blackhawks LW Dan Carcillo sat out his fourth game with upper-body injury and was placed on IR on Wednesday. C Marcus Kruger sat out after taking a hit to the head from Pittsburgh's Deryk Engelland in a game on Tuesday night. Both Carcillo and Kruger are believed to have post-concussion symptoms. . The Blackhawks recalled C Brandon Pirri from Rockford of the AHL on Wednesday to take Kruger's roster spot. . Montreal's Brian Gionta (lower body) missed his sixth game and Scott Gomez (lower body) missed his 13th. . The game was the only regular-season contest between Montreal and Chicago. The two "Original Six" teams have not played more than once in a season since 2001-02.