Jeff Glass, Anton Forsberg brace themselves for pressure of a playoff push

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Jeff Glass (left) replaces Anton Forsberg after the latter gave up five goals Saturday against the Islanders. (AP Photo)

Jeff Glass initially joined the Blackhawks as something of a novelty act, a feel-good story and a pleasant guy in the room who, ideally, would never play a game during Corey Crawford’s presumably brief injury absence.

Now, the Hawks’ 10th straight playoff appearance might rest on his shoulders.

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“It’s awesome,” Glass said of the challenge that awaits him and Anton Forsberg down the stretch as the Hawks face increasingly long odds of making the playoffs. “I know its not exactly where we want to be right now; we’d rather be in a more comfortable position. But what an awesome opportunity to show everybody what we’re all about in here. It’ll be an exciting run.”

Exciting for Glass and Forsberg, who have been thrust into huge roles down the stretch. Nerve-racking for Hawks fans who have been spoiled by Crawford’s consistent excellence in goal.

Before Saturday’s game, Forsberg, like Glass, embraced the challenge, saying, “It’s going to be fun, for sure.” He then went out and gave up five goals on 35 shots, thanks in part to his own sloppy rebound control and in part to the Hawks’ inability to clear any opposing forwards out of the crease. As Patrick Kane pointed out, the Hawks haven’t exactly done Forsberg many favors this season.

“We’ve got to clear pucks out of the zone, and that’s the biggest thing,” Duncan Keith said. “Clearing guys out of the net —you can’t cross-check a guy because that’s a penalty, and you can’t hold on to the sticks. So it’s trying to find those loose pucks and get it out of there as hard as we can. Goaltenders make the first saves, and we need everybody converging to clear it out.”

They’ll certainly need to do a better job of it than they have been this season. Crawford spent the past two-plus seasons masking the Hawks’ defensive deficiencies. Glass (who will start Monday against the Lightning) and Forsberg will require more help. Joel Quenneville said the goaltending has been “good” and that the Hawks’ problems are team-wide, but the fact is the Hawks have given up four or more goals five times in the 11 games since Crawford was put on injured reserve. Crawford had five such games in 27 starts.

“We put ourselves in a real big underdog position; we’re looking up at everybody in the division,” Quenneville said. “A lot of conference teams, as well. A lot of work to do. What a great opportunity, and trying to take advantage of it individually and as a team is what we’re going to need.”

Kane suggested that the Hawks are feeling the weight of the standings, and spending too much time concerned with the big picture instead of each individual game and shift. That’s what happens to younger, inexperienced players. But Glass and Forsberg are doing their best to block out such concerns.

Despite the dramatic shift in his circumstances over the past month, Glass said his mind-set hasn’t changed.

“When I got here, I didn’t think about anything but the next day — the next shot, really,” he said. “It’s so cliché, but it’s so true. You have to stop one puck at a time. Nothing changes for me. I have to win the next game, whenever that is, and that’s all I’m focused on. I’m trying to help this team get points, and the situation hasn’t affected my mind-set going forward.”

Forsberg, who entered the season expecting to get 15 or 20 starts as an occasional spot-starter, echoed that sentiment.

“It’s not really any different,” he said. “My mind-set is the same way. If you’re a goalie, you want to play games, and you want to win games. Nothing changes.”

Well, nothing but the stakes.

NOTES: Artem Anisimov will return to the lineup Monday, and to clear a roster spot for him, the Hawks sent struggling defenseman Gustav Forsling to Rockford. Michal Kempny and Connor Murphy likely bump Jan Rutta from the lineup on Monday.

Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

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