Our Pledge To You

Blackhawks

J-F Berube edging ahead of Anton Forsberg in Blackhawks’ battle of backups

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Coach Joel Quenneville, as has been the case nearly every day for more than a month now, had no update on Corey Crawford on Saturday morning. No idea of when he might return to the ice, no idea of whether he’ll play again this season.

“Status quo,” he said, which has been the status quote for weeks.

Crawford, of course, is done this season. Considering he hasn’t even skated since a seemingly ill-advised trip to Arizona in mid-February, there’s virtually no chance he plays by the April 7 season finale. The assumption — the hope — is that he’ll be fully recovered from his head injury by the fall.

RELATED STORIES
Hawks lose to lowly Sabres
Hawks trying to reinforce ‘winning culture’

J-F Berube made 27 saves in a 5-3 loss to the Sabres on Saturday. (AP Photo)

That means Anton Forsberg and J-F Berube are, in theory, battling to be Crawford’s backup next season. They’re both signed through next season, they’re both roughly the same age (Berube is 26, Forsberg is 25) and both make roughly the same amount of money (Forsberg makes $750,000, Berube makes $700,000). The Hawks paid a much greater price for Forsberg, acquiring him in the Artemi Panarin trade last June, but the best goalie will win the job.

“Every time you go in the net, you try to showcase yourself,” Berube said. “It doesn’t matter what position you’re in.”

Neither one has been running away with the gig.

Since Feb. 1, when the bottom fell out on the season, Forsberg has started 12 games. His .889 save percentage in that time is the second-worst in the league among the 33 goalies with at least 10 starts in that span. He has been pulled a whopping six times.

Berube hasn’t exactly been lights-out, but he has been better and more consistent. He gave up four goals on 31 shots in a 5-3 loss to the Sabres on Saturday, victimized by two deflections and overrun by his own teammate, Jordan Oesterle, on another. The loss dropped Berube to 2-4-0 with a .900 save percentage, but if you overlook a helpless 7-2 loss in San Jose that was the Hawks’ most putrid defensive performances in recent memory, he’s posted a respectable .911 save percentage in his other games.

Two nights earlier, Berube relieved an ineffective Forsberg and promptly gave up two goals, but held down the fort from there to keep the Hawks in the game.

“He’s a competitive guy,” Quenne-
ville said. “I like how he battles. I thought he came in in a tough situation [in Winnipeg] and then found a way to really give us a chance to get back in the game. He’s got some experience to him, he moves hard, finds pucks and gives us a chance because he’s a competitive guy in a lot of ways. He’s got some pretty good skill level across the board.”

Mind games

Quenneville has never been out of contention in March before, and he’s feeling the same mental grind as his players.

“Definitely a different way of thinking going into each and every game,” Quenneville said. “[In the past], every game was so valuable, [thinking] about where we were going to finish, what’s the [first-round] matchup going to be, and getting prepared for the playoffs. ”

Numbers game

Jonathan Toews’ goal was his 20th of the season.

He has reached the 20-goal plateau in all 11 of his NHL seasons. The Hawks’ captain has four goals and seven assists in his last eight games.

Patrick Kane had two assists, giving him four goals and five assists in seven career games in his hometown of Buffalo.

Follow me on Twitter
@MarkLazerus.

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com