CHICAGO – The Chicago Blackhawks stuck to a tidy defensive game plan and worked it to perfection.
Corey Crawford made 23 saves for his fourth shutout of the season, and Brent Seabrook and Patrick Kane had a goal and assist each to lead the Chicago to a 4-0 win over the Florida Panthers on Wednesday night.
Viktor Stalberg and Tomas Kopecky also scored for Chicago, which got two assists each from Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith. Crawford, who made his 18th straight start, had to block only a few tough chances to post his fifth NHL shutout.
The Blackhawks led 1-0 after two periods, then blew the game open with three goals in the third.
“We didn’t try to force anything against a team looking for that,” Crawford said. “We played a tight game, waiting for them to push the offence. We capitalized on that.”
The Blackhawks buckled down in their first game without leading goal-scorer Patrick Sharp, who is expected to be sidelined at least two weeks with an injured left knee. Sharp, injured in a collision at Phoenix on Sunday, has 34 goals and 34 assists in 71 games.
“I thought the ‘D’ did a good job of limiting their shots, and the forwards had great back-pressure,” Seabrook said. “It was a great team effort.”
Chicago kept pace in the congested Western Conference playoff race.
Tomas Vokoun stopped 27 shots, but the Panthers were shut out for the second straight night. Florida opened a season-high, five-game road trip with a 1-0 loss at New York to the Rangers on Tuesday.
“I know people look at the end result, but I thought we had a much better effort tonight than we did against the Rangers,” Panthers coach Peter DeBoer said. “We played hard tonight.
“You’re not going to win any games unless you score a goal, and that’s been our problem here for a few games now.”
Stephen Weiss, who leads the Panthers with 49 points, sat out his second game with an injured leg. He could return at Buffalo on Friday, DeBoer said.
Weiss scored Florida’s most recent goal, at 13:26 of the third period in a 4-3 shootout loss at home to the New York Islanders on Saturday.
Chicago outshot Florida 12-8 in the scoreless first period.
Troy Brouwer had the Blackhawks’ best chance when he jumped on a rebound of Seabrook’s shot, but lofted the puck on top of the net.
Aided by three power plays, the Blackhawks picked up the pressure in the second and outshot Florida 12-5. Early in the period, Vokoun made several close-in saves, including two against former Panthers forward Michael Frolik and one on Marian Hossa.
Seabrook opened the scoring with 5:19 left in the second during Chicago’s third advantage of the period. He fired a low, one-timed shot past Vokoun from the left circle after taking a feed from Keith.
“We were killing too many penalties and I think that was the difference,” Florida forward David Booth said. “That led to their momentum and getting on a roll.
“When Toews and Kane and those guys play as much as they did (on power plays), it’s even harder to stop them.”
Stalberg made it 2-0 just 46 seconds into the period. Left open at the right edge of the crease, he took Toews’ cross-crease feed and fired a shot that struck Vokoun and continued past him.
Kane extended Chicago’s lead to 3-0 with 7:56 remaining. He partially fanned on a shot from the right circle, but the attempt fooled Vokoun and slipped between his pads. Kopecky completed the scoring from the slot with 2:55 left.
Notes: Blackhawks D Brian Campbell returned to the lineup. He had skated just a few shifts of one game after injuring his foot on March 8. Blackhawks C Dave Bolland missed his fifth game because of a concussion and is out indefinitely. … With Sharp out, Stalberg joined Toews and Patrick Kane on Chicago’s top line. … Chicago C Marcus Kruger, 20, made his NHL debut. Kruger, the Hawks’ fifth-round draft pick (149th overall) in 2009, joined the Blackhawks from Djurgardens of the Swedish League. … The Panthers made their first visit to Chicago since Dec. 16, 2007.