CHICAGO — If a team is in a bad slump, it should hope the Flyers are the next opponent on its schedule.
For the second straight game, the Flyers lost to a team that had been reeling.
But not without a fight, and an attack that swarmed the net in the final period.
Corey Crawford made 35 saves as Chicago, which had lost three straight games and five of its previous six, blanked the Flyers, 3-0, before 21,524 Wednesday night at the United Center.
On Monday, the Flyers dropped a 4-3 overtime decision to visiting Arizona, which had lost its first 11 games (0-10-1).
Making matters worse: The Flyers’ already-depleted defense suffered another injury. Radko Gudas suffered an unspecified upper-body injury in the opening period and did not return. He apparently was injured on a first-period hit by Brandon Saad.
The Flyers are already missing injured defensemen Andrew MacDonald and Shayne Gostisbehere, and the Phantoms’ Samuel Morin — who was scheduled to be recalled earlier this week — is also sidelined.
The Flyers started three rookie defensemen: Robert Hagg, Travis Sanheim, and Mark Alt. Another first-year player, Will O’Neill, may make his NHL debut Thursday in St. Louis.
Without Gudas, the other defensemen played more minutes, led by Ivan Provorov, who played a staggering 29:51.
“Any time you have three of your best defensemen out, you need guys to step up, and I think the D did a great job,” captain Claude Giroux said. “It’s not easy to play with five defensemen.”
Crawford, who notched his first shutout of the season, was the difference in a game in which the Flyers had numerous Grade A chances. Some they failed to finish with an open net staring at them. On others, Crawford was spectacular.
“He was good tonight,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. “There are nights where you have good opportunities and the goaltender sees the puck and you make it an easy night for him. I didn’t think that was the case tonight. I thought we got traffic to the net and had good opportunities all the way through. The third period, we had seven or eight really good scoring chances and didn’t have anything to show for it, and you have to give him credit for that.”
The Flyers (6-6-1) fired five shots during a power-play that started with 16:32 left in regulation, but Crawford had all the answers, including a great save on Wayne Simmonds’ point-blank chance.
“I thought we had a really good effort from everybody in the lineup,” Hakstol said.
With 11:32 to go, Jake Voracek’s slick stretch pass sent Giroux ahead of the pack. Again, Crawford stood tall and made the stop.
“I was surprised at how many chances we had –five-on-five, power play. We just couldn’t buy one,” Voracek said.
The Blackhawks (6-5-2) who handed the Flyers their third shutout in 13 games, added an empty-net goal with 1:49 left.
Chicago took a 1-0 lead when Artem Anisimov scored on a rebound while on the game’s fourth power play — all given to the Blackhawks — with 11:02 remaining in the second.
Twenty seconds later, Hagg, one of the Flyers’ steadiest defensemen in the season’s first month, fumbled away the puck at his blue line and Jonathan Toews converted it into a breakaway goal, putting the Blackhawks ahead, 2-0.
Toews played for Hakstol at North Dakota.
After helping to kill a penalty, Sanheim, Alt (who came out of the penalty box) and Val Filppula came down on a three-on-one break. But Crawford made a blocker save on Sanheim to keep the game scoreless.
Filppula had the Flyers’ best two scoring chances (breakaway, wraparound) in a scoreless opening period, but Crawford beat him each time. (Notice a trend?)
The first period also included Scott Laughton decisioning Chicago defenseman Connor Murphy in a fight. Murphy’s father, Gord, is a Flyers assistant.
Brian Elliott, making his fifth start in the last six games, played well and stopped 32 of 34 shots.
Before the season, the plan was for Elliott and Michal Neuvirth to divide the duties. One month later, it seems Elliott has been anointed the team’s No. 1 goalie.
“You can say that’s the role that he’s been in; he’s earned the minutes he’s been playing,” Hakstol said before the game. “I don’t think anything is really going to change for us. It may continue this way with this type of rhythm. But we’re very sure we need both of these guys going for us to be able to accomplish some of the things we want to.”
Neuvirth, however, figures to play Thursday against the surprising Blues (10-2-1). Hakstol usually switches goalies in games played on back-to-back nights.
The Flyers did not hold a morning skate Wednesday because Hakstol wanted to conserve some energy. The Flyers were starting a stretch in which they play three games in four nights.