One of the most endearing things about Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford, something that has made him one of the most popular athletes in Chicago for the last decade, is that he says what he thinks.
He doesn’t guard his words. He doesn’t sugarcoat. So while his Hawks teammates tried to stay on the bright side after delaying elimination from the playoff race for another day despite losing to the Jets in overtime Monday, Crawford let it fly with no filter.
‘‘It’s been a long time since I faced that, where you’re playing without a reason,’’ he said of the inevitable. ‘‘I don’t know. We’ll see. It’s still fun to play the game. We’re pretty lucky to have the building full. We could be in Florida or something, with 7,000 fans in the crowd.
‘‘So we’re pretty lucky to be here and still have a full building to come see us play hockey. At least we have them to play for, to try and put on some kind of show and play hard for the people that come out and pay to come see us play.’’
That’s all that’s left — other than personal pride — when the Hawks hit the ice for a home game Wednesday against the Blues. They were officially eliminated from the playoff race by the Avalanche’s 6-2 victory Tuesday against the Oilers, which left them eight points out with three games left.
It’s a harsh ending for the Hawks after they were on course for a playoff spot in late February. They overcame a 9-18-5 start to rise to eighth in the Western Conference, but they have gone 8-7-3 since.
‘‘We’ve let a lot of points go,’’ Crawford said.
Very little of that is his fault. Crawford is a big reason the Hawks stayed afloat as long as they did, and his resurgence after missing more than two months with a concussion — coming off a 2017-18 season also derailed by a concussion — earned him a nomination for the Masterton Trophy for perseverance from the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.
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Crawford rode out some tough games at the beginning of his latest comeback, then played like an All-Star. In his last 12 games, he has a .931 save percentage and a 2.00 goals-against average.
Two weeks ago, he held the Canucks and Flyers to two goals in regulation and lost both games. With the playoffs on the line last week, he held the Coyotes to one goal in a loss and gave up two in regulation against the Kings before losing in overtime. He deserved better.
The advanced statistics on how Crawford has played during this stretch are equally impressive. He is third in the NHL with an .894 save percentage on high-danger shots in five-on-five situations and in goals saved above average at 6.97, according to Natural Stat Trick.
‘‘It’s tough to go through what he’s been through the last couple of years,’’ coach Jeremy Colliton said. ‘‘You can’t help but wonder what your future is when you don’t know and it doesn’t seem like you’re getting better and it takes a long time.
‘‘Happy for him to not only get healthy and back playing but playing as well as he has. He’s been so good for us.’’
Colliton owes Crawford a break now that the Hawks have been eliminated, so there’s a good chance backup Cam Ward will start once or twice in the last three games.
There was a point when Crawford’s contract ($6 million per year) was thought of by some as a hindrance to the Hawks, but there’s optimism after how he has played since returning.
The team is lucky to have him signed for next season with Ward likely moving on, perhaps to retirement, and Collin Delia still an unknown. If he stays healthy, Crawford is a good bet for next season — and possibly beyond.