January 06, 2015

Joel Quenneville's propensity for lineup changes is something he's overcome with a consistent group that has clicked during the Chicago Blackhawks' longest winning streak of the season.

He's perfectly content relying on Corey Crawford in net most of the time, too.

The Blackhawks are on the verge of winning seven straight games, but they'll likely get a tough test Sunday night at home from a Colorado Avalanche team that has scored plenty during a three-game winning streak.

Quenneville never is shy to tinker with his lines, using various combinations aside from his second group of Patrick Kane, Artem Anisimov and Artemi Panarin, which has been one of the most efficient in the league.

After Chicago (26-13-4) totaled one goal in losses to Dallas on Dec. 22 and Carolina on Dec. 27, Quenneville bumped Andrew Shaw to the top line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa and moved Teuvo Teravainen to the third.

The Blackhawks haven't lost since while scoring at least three goals in every game during their streak. Philip Danault scored his first NHL goal to break a tie in the third period against Buffalo on Friday before Toews added an empty-netter in a 3-1 home victory.

Toews also assisted on Niklas Hjalmarsson's first-period goal and Duncan Keith finished with two assists. That was enough for Chicago to win for the first time in six instances when Kane, the league's leading scorer, failed to record a point.

''I like the improvements in our game. I think we got a little bit more predictability in our lineup now,'' Quenneville said. ''We tried some different things. We'll continue to try to get better, but I like the way, the progression in our team game and our puck possession game.''

Crawford made 28 saves and won his fourth straight start. He's 11-3-0 with a 1.63 goals-against average and four of his NHL-leading six shutouts since Dec. 6.

''I thought I started (the season) pretty strong - really strong, actually,'' Crawford said. ''I kinda dipped in November a little bit, was just inconsistent in games, losing focus, giving up goals you don't want to be giving up. I was able to get back at it, play a lot of games, really get in the zone, just be consistent.''

Crawford lost his only start against Colorado this season 3-0 on Dec. 15 and has dropped his last three against the Avalanche. He wasn't in net when Toews scored in overtime to beat Colorado 4-3 on Dec. 31, snapping Chicago's four-game losing streak in the series.

That marked a rare regulation defeat for the Avalanche (21-18-3) during a 9-2-2 stretch that began Dec. 12. They've scored at least four goals each time during a three-game winning streak and got the tiebreaking tally from Tyson Barrie in Friday's 5-3 win over Nashville.

The Central is the only division with four teams at the 50-point mark as Colorado tries to make up ground in arguably the league's strongest group.

''To think, a month ago we were nine points behind (the Predators),'' Barrie said. ''It says a lot about our club and what we have been able to do. A lot of season left, but I think we're building towards something and we're getting better every night.''

Semyon Varlamov allowed at least three goals for the fifth time in his last seven starts, though, and has a 3.42 GAA in that span. He had a 1.24 GAA while winning his previous eight starts against Chicago before the New Year's Eve defeat.

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