Blackhawks-Islanders Preview

The Associated Press

While his club had few problems during Corey Crawford's absence, Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville is ready to see his No. 1 goaltender back on the ice.

Quenneville will get that chance Thursday night when the Blackhawks start the 2014 portion of their schedule on the road against the New York Islanders.

The Blackhawks (28-7-7) went 8-1-2 after Crawford suffered a lower-body injury Dec. 8, and Antti Raanta appeared in all 11 games, starting the last 10. Raanta posted a 2.27 goals-against average during that stretch and capped it with his first career shutout, 1-0 against Los Angeles on Monday.

"It's been pretty tough," Crawford said. "It's never fun to be injured, and it's even less fun to be sitting on the sidelines and watching the guys play."

Crawford, 17-6-3 with a 2.47 GAA this season, was expected to miss at least two weeks at the time of his injury.

"He's ready to go. I'm looking forward to it," Quenneville said. "He's excited about it as well."

Crawford will try to help Chicago extend its point streak to a season high-tying eight games in his return. The Blackhawks are 2-2-1 in their last five road games but will face a team that's on the verge of matching its longest winless stretch at home in franchise history.

The Islanders are 0-4-4 in their last eight at Nassau Coliseum but will also seek a season-high third consecutive win overall Thursday.

New York (13-21-7) has scored a combined 10 goals in its back-to-back wins after netting 93 in its first 39 contests. John Tavares had two goals and two assists in a 5-3 comeback win over Atlantic Division-leading Boston on Tuesday.

Frans Nielsen also scored two goals, and Kyle Okposo extended his point streak to seven games with a goal and two assists. Those efforts helped the Islanders erase a deficit for the second time in as many games.

They fell behind 3-0 to Minnesota on Sunday before surging to a 5-4 victory and trailed the Bruins 3-1 in the second period Tuesday after giving up two goals in 25 seconds.

New York helped itself by going 4 for 8 on the power play, nearly matching its output with a man advantage in its previous 19 contests (5 for 52).

"The last two games we've taken the first 20 minutes off so we have to try to correct that," Okposo said. "We found a way to win tonight. The power play came up pretty big."

The Islanders haven't gone nine straight home games without a win since March 2-April 6, 1999.

"We've just got to come out and play the kind of game we've played on the road," said Okposo, whose team has won four straight away from home. "We can't try to be too fancy or too cute. We've just got to get pucks in and keep trusting our game."

The Islanders erased an early two-goal deficit when they faced the Blackhawks on Oct. 11 but Chicago's Michal Handzus netted the tiebreaking score in the second period in a 3-2 victory. Crawford was on the bench for that game while the currently injured Nikolai Khabibulin was in net.

Crawford is 2-0-0 with a 1.92 GAA in two career matchups with the Islanders but the most recent was Dec. 2, 2011.

The Blackhawks have won four straight in the series and snapped a three-game skid on Long Island with a 3-2 overtime victory Dec. 8, 2011.

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