Corey Crawford is eager to rejoin the Blackhawks after two months of isolation. They carried on without him while he practiced on the side and watched games from a distance. The Hawks would leave for road trips, and he would stay home to work out at the facility.
He has had enough. Crawford is medically cleared and ready to play again.
He’s available as soon as coach Jeremy Colliton and the staff want him and would take the net Saturday against the Blue Jackets if they’d let him. That won’t happen, Colliton said, but it shouldn’t be much longer.
“It’s not up to me,” Crawford said. “I’m healthy to play right now. Really it’s whether they think I’m ready to get in the net.”
Crawford feels “pretty good” but admitted he would benefit from “a few more practices to really get timing back.”
The Hawks have relied on Cam Ward and Collin Delia while Crawford has been on injured reserve. Colliton didn’t say who would start against the Blue Jackets other than ruling out Crawford.
“It’s good to hear he’s feeling good, though,” Colliton said.
The next opportunity for Crawford is Monday against the Senators, which would be a logical choice. The Hawks would be wise to give him as favorable of a road back as possible, and it doesn’t get much friendlier than a home game against the worst team in the NHL.
Crawford’s only apprehension about jumping back in the lineup has been the thought of supplanting Ward, who has been on fire during the team’s run of eight wins in nine games.
Ward stopped 41 of 43 shots in a win over the Devils on Thursday and has a .940 save percentage and 2.20 goals-against average in his last five starts.
Coaches are often averse to disrupting anything when a team is hot like this, but Colliton doesn’t think that way and hasn’t been thrilled with how the Hawks have played this week anyway. That doesn’t factor into his decision on when to play Crawford.
“I think it’s a great problem to have, if you can call it a problem,” Colliton said. “It’s all positive.”
There hasn’t been one complete effort this week from the Hawks, who were fortunate to escape with wins against the lowly Red Wings and Devils but got clobbered against the one strong opponent they faced in Boston.
There’s no question the Hawks are better than they were when Colliton arrived, but whether they’ve improved enough to tangle with legitimate playoff teams isn’t so clear. The Blue Jackets provide another chance to test that, just like the Bruins did earlier in the week when they took the Hawks down a peg with a 6-3 stomping.
The Hawks headed off a prolonged slump by handling the Devils to keep themselves within two points of a playoff spot. That’s shocking considering where they were when Crawford went down, and the thrill of trying to get in the postseason heightens Crawford’s urgency to return.
“You definitely want to be a part of it,” he said. “It’s never fun to watch on TV or to watch here in the locker room. Either way, it’s tough. You just want to get out there and play again.”
As well as Ward and Delia have played at times, neither is as good as when Crawford is at his peak. If he can play near his best, he is the obvious choice.
Crawford matched his career-high .929 save percentage last year before a season-ending concussion. He has a 2.42 goals-against average over 12 seasons.
“You don’t want to come back in [and not] be at the top of my game,” Crawford said. “It’s really thinking about what game do you throw me in? I’ll leave that up to Jeremy. Whenever they want to, I’m ready to play.”