The Chicago Blackhawks kept rolling during Corey Crawford’s absence, but he’s expected to return this weekend.
The Blackhawks are also set to get star defenseman Duncan Keith back from an illness Saturday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets, who will attempt to bounce back from the end to one of their longest win streaks in franchise history.
Chicago (22-9-1) had won three in a row and eight of 10 when Crawford hurt his left foot while leaving a concert Dec. 1. He was 12-5-1 with one of the league’s best goals-against averages at 1.87 before his injury, but the Blackhawks weren’t fazed by his absence, going 7-1-0 with Antti Raanta and Scott Darling splitting time in net.
"Those guys doing really well maybe eases me in a little bit better," Crawford said. "But it comes down to the same things, preparing the same way like I was and going out there and playing hard."
Raanta was in net for each of the team’s back-to-back wins, including a 5-3 victory over Minnesota on Tuesday. Patrick Kane extended his hot streak with the tiebreaking power-play score with 3:28 remaining after the Blackhawks squandered a two-goal lead in the third period.
Kane also had two assists, giving him 11 goals and 11 assists in his last 16 games. Jonathan Toews and Brent Seabrook contributed three points apiece.
Keith caught his illness before that game, but he is set to return for a stretch of three contests in four nights.
"It’s good to have a full lineup. It hasn’t been like that for pretty much the whole year," he said. "I think it’s important that we all work out there together and try to keep the ball rolling."
With Crawford and Keith back, Chicago will try to earn a 14th consecutive win over its former division rival and 10th in a row in Columbus. The Blackhawks have never won 10 straight road games against any opponent.
The Blackhawks used Ben Smith’s goal with 3.7 seconds left for a 4-3 road win in the most recent matchup April 4, and Keith had three assists.
They registered a 6-1 rout in the only other meeting in 2013-14, with Toews and Andrew Shaw scoring two goals apiece. Crawford made 22 saves in his 10th consecutive victory over the Jackets and has a 1.48 GAA during that run.
Columbus (13-15-3) had its seven-game win streak snapped with a 5-4 overtime loss to Washington on Thursday. The Blue Jackets, who also had a three-game run at home snapped, blew a pair of one-goal leads in the third period while falling short of matching their longest run in franchise history.
Sergei Bobrovsky had a 1.63 GAA in the seven games before that defeat. He gave up four goals in each of the two games against Chicago last season.
Nick Foligno had two goals and an assist in Thursday’s loss, giving him six goals and two assists in his last seven games. Foligno needs two more goals to match his career-high 18 in 70 games last season.
"We’ve got to look at the positives right now," he said. "We just need to find a way to hold onto that lead and to have a little bit better start."
Chicago’s Patrick Sharp, who has a goal and an assist in five games since returning from a lower-body injury, has 19 goals and 12 assists in his last 24 contests against Columbus.