EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Corey Crawford has a renewed appreciation of the mundane after missing two months, and it has been a blissful week of playing, watching the film and hitting the ice for practice a day later.
It’s starting to feel normal again, and that’s a blessing. Whether that means he’ll settle into his regular playing schedule for the Blackhawks is unknown, but after beating the Ducks in his return, he’s ready to work as much as they’ll let him.
“My legs felt good, lungs felt good,” Crawford said after practice Friday. “Just a few mistakes that our guys kinda bailed me out with, but that was a nice first one to get away and get a win out of that one and just kinda build off it.”
Coach Jeremy Colliton didn’t name a starter Saturday against the Kings, but Crawford will almost certainly play then or Sunday at the Sharks, and Cam Ward will play in the other game.
Crawford is a logical choice against the Kings as the team tries to build his confidence. It also helps that there was an extra day off for him to recover and reassess. Also, Los Angeles is at the bottom of the Western Conference and is bottom-three in the NHL in shots and goals.
Crawford stopped 29 of 32 shots against the Ducks and was spry in the crease as the Hawks escaped with a 4-3 victory. He gave up one goal on a misread pass and another on a botched attempt to play a puck behind the net, but was fine otherwise.
“He hadn’t played in a long time, but I thought he looked good, made a lot of big saves,” Colliton said. “Some pucks went in the net, but he gives our team a confidence, a belief. It’s really nice to have him, and I’m sure he’s only going to get better the more he plays.”
Ward is shifting to the background as Crawford transitions back to being the starter, and that’s fairly normal in a season that’s had one ripple after another. He’s been all over the depth chart and rolls along with unwavering professionalism.
In his 14th and possibly final season, Ward has gone from holding the job for Crawford the first two weeks of the season, to playing behind rookie Collin Delia to putting together his best stretch of goaltending just in time for Crawford to return and bump him back to the bench.
“That’s what I signed up for when I came here,” he said. “When your name gets called, go out there and do your thing. When it’s not, be there for your teammates and try to get better with them in practice.”
Not everyone would approach it that way, and even near the end of his career, Ward still has a competitive streak and wants to play more. The Hawks are fortunate to have him, and they’re going to need him as they head into the home stretch of the playoff race with no guarantees on how Crawford will hold up.