Crawford returns in clash against Islanders


The Blackhawks (28-7-7) are ringing in the New Year with a familiar face finally back between the pipes.  Corey Crawford, who has been out since Dec. 17 with a lower-body injury, will be back in the lineup as the Blackhawks face the New York Islanders (13-21-7) in their first matchup in 2014.  The Hawks won the previous match 3-2 in Chicago, with Michal Handzus netting the game winner.

The New York Islanders, a team who has disappointed in the first half of the season after making the playoffs last year, are looking to build momentum after their two most recent victories against the Wild and the Bruins.  Currently sitting in 15th in the Eastern Conference, a win against the league’s top team could spark a team led by John Tavares, who currently holds fourth place in NHL scoring. The Islanders have struggled holding onto leads this season, losing six times when they have led by two goals going into the third.  However, the team’s power play, which had only scored 4 goals since Thanksgiving, exploded for the same number in the game against Boston, and will look to capitalize on a so-so Blackhawks penalty kill.

The Blackhawks go into tonight’s contest riding in on a nail-biting 1-0 win against Martin Jones and the Los Angeles Kings, and have gone their last seven games without suffering a regulation loss.  Brandon Saad has goals in the last 2 contests, and Patrick Sharp is also hot, named the league’s number 1 star last week with six goals and an assist in the last week of play before being held pointless in the LA victory.  After playing 10 games in Crawford’s absence, Antti Raanta has solidified his role as a capable backup in the NHL, but will play behind Crawford in tonight’s contest after his last shutout performance.  The team is also bringing Jason LaBarbera as an emergency goaltender, a situation that is strictly a precautionary measure.

Injury Report: For the Blackhawks, the return of Crawford means that Nikolai Khabibulin is the only injured Chicago player with a lower-body injury that’s kept him out since... For the Islanders, defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky (concussion) and Radek Martinek (back) are both on injured reserve.

Islanders win if: They can capitalize on an embarrassing Hawks penalty kill,Tavares stays hot, and the team peppers newly returned Crawford.

Hawks win if: They can take control early in the game, stay disciplined and out of the penalty box, and play a fast and up-tempo game.

Where to watch: CSN-Chi, NSG PLUS

Location: Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, 1255 Hempsted Turnpike, Uniondale, NY 

Time: 6 pm CT

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