Corey Crawford quiet but flawless as Blackhawks win exhibition against Blues
Crawford saved all 11 shots he faced in 30 minutes as the Hawks prepared for the start of the playoffs Saturday.
With his coronavirus symptoms faded away and his rust scraped off, Corey Crawford looks ready for the NHL playoffs.
The veteran goaltender wasn’t tested often, but held his ground steadily every time he was, in the Blackhawks’ 4-0 exhibition victory against the Blues on Wednesday in Edmonton, Alberta.
Crawford finished with 11 saves on 11 shots in the first half of the game. He was replaced by backup Malcolm Subban as scheduled with 9:54 left in the second period. Subban saved all 10 shots he faced to complete the shutout.
“It’s great to have [Crawford] back,” Brandon Saad said. “We have confidence in all our goalies, but for him to have a couple days of practice, it looks like he never misses a beat out there. He’s an incredible goaltender, he anchors our team, and we all get confidence when he’s in the net.”
Crawford’s best save came just a minute into the game, when he denied Zach Sanford’s slot shot with a quick left pad. He also read a play nicely and squared up to smother a Vladimir Tarasenko wrister from the right faceoff dot early in the second.
“He just calms us all down. He has all that playoff experience. He’s been great all year. It’s been nice to get him back,” Dylan Strome said. “We feel very confident when he’s in the net.”
The Hawks clearly showed more urgency in the game than the Blues, even though the result didn’t matter. The Blues, with the Western Conference’s best regular-season record, next will play three round-robin games to determine seeding; the Hawks start a best-of-five elimination series Saturday against the Oilers.
So the takeaways from Wednesday’s glorified scrimmage must be taken with a grain of salt, one that coach Jeremy Colliton openly acknowledged postgame.
“We did a really good job of the work ethic of our forwards, getting above the puck, making sure we had back pressure to allow our ‘D’ to play an aggressive game,” Colliton said. “We were cleaner and cleaner as the game went on with our puck plays and our breakouts. Early on, we had a couple turnovers and got a couple saves from ‘Crow’ that allowed us to get our legs under us.”
Crawford and Subban rarely had to deal with anything on the Blues’ power plays, as the Hawks’ stellar penalty kill — a focus area in training camp with the matchup against the Oilers’ top-ranked power play looming — held St. Louis to just two shots on goal in four power-play opportunities.
Dominik Kubalik, meanwhile, was the Hawks’ standout forward, tallying two goals and one assist. He immediately returned to his always-getting-open ways in the first period, just missing on three scoring chances, before potting two power-play strikes in the third.
“I was kind of scared from the beginning, because the first game after a couple of months is always tough,” Kubalik said. “But I felt pretty good out there, and obviously when you score a goal or when your line is going, it’s always good.”
Kubalik also notably skated on the first line with Saad and Jonathan Toews after spending all of camp with Kirby Dach and Drake Caggiula.
“We want guys to be comfortable in different combinations because that just allows you to be flexible,” Colliton said. “But we knew that Toews and Kubalik and Saad had a good chemistry . . . so as you go into the playoffs, it’s only natural you’d look at that combo.”