The Blackhawks returned from the All-Star break hoping to parlay momentum from a convincing victory against the Red Wings last Thursday into a late push for the playoffs. But for a team that hasn’t won three games in a row since mid-December, the return of goalie Corey Crawford still seems like the key to any mad dash to a postseason berth.
Crawford remains in limbo after missing the Hawks’ last 14 games with a head injury. The Hawks hoped he would begin on-ice workouts during the All-Star break, but that didn’t happen, coach Joel Quenneville said after practice Monday at MB Ice Arena.
Crawford will not travel with the team on the upcoming trip to Nashville (Tuesday), Vancouver (Thursday) and Calgary (Saturday).
“We’re optimistic he can have a good week here and get on [the ice] later in the week,” Quenneville said.
Quenneville remains “optimistic” that Crawford will return this season. But the Hawks won’t be able to determine that until Crawford gets back on the ice.
With the Hawks four points out of a playoff berth — and with four teams to leapfrog into that spot — just knowing Crawford will return could provide a boost.
“He’s around; you see him,” Quenneville said. “You think he’s close to getting on the ice, so he’s showing all the signs that he’ll be helping us at some point.
“I think as players, though, you still have control in front of you in your own games, and we have a couple of goalies [Anton Forsberg, Jeff Glass] who are giving us a chance game in, game out. We lost some key points at home [last week]. But the last three games, we’re playing the right way and at least giving ourselves a chance.”
At this point, the Hawks (23-19-7, 53 points) know they have to step it up a notch — and finish virtually every winnable game — to make a playoff push. They trail the Avalanche (57 points) by four points for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference. But they also have the Ducks (57), Wild (57) and Kings (57) in front of them.
With Crawford out and the Hawks 6-8-2 in their last 16 games, all they have to cling to is a 5-1 victory against the Wings at Little Caesars Arena on Thursday before the break.
“We won our last game; we played better,” captain Jonathan Toews said. ‘‘We’ve got to use that confidence and go in there and have a great effort and win. That’s all we can worry about right now.”
After dominating the struggling Wings — who are 10-10-7 in their first-year arena — the game Tuesday against the Predators at Bridgestone Arena will be a much better test of whether the Hawks have found something. The Predators (29-11-7), one point behind the Jets for first place in the Central Division with three games in hand, are 16-4-3 at home.
Even Quenneville referred to the victory against the Wings — as impressive as it was — as a “baby step” on the road to recovery. Beat the Predators in Nashville, and you might have something.
“It’s a great test right out of the gate,” Quenneville said. “You look at their core defense — as good as anybody in the game. Tough building. Big crowd. Noisy in a lot of ways. We’ve got to go in there and play our game and be willing to do whatever it takes because we need points in the worst way, and they’re tough to get in that building. We’ll have to do a lot of things right. We’re excited about the challenge.”
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