A difficult question: Will Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford ever play again?
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The Sharks’ Melker Karlsson skated in unfettered on the rush, pulled back his stick and let ’er rip. How many times this season had it been just Corey Crawford and an opposing shooter, with nary a Blackhawks teammate in the picture?
Too many times, that’s for sure.
Crawford didn’t stop Karlsson’s shot Sunday. It was the 1,000th goal he had allowed in his career, all with the Hawks. A guy has to play a mighty long time to let than many go by.
It was gut-wrenching several minutes later to see Crawford prostrate on the ice, the word ‘‘concussion’’ instantly in the air, the question of whether he will play again not far behind.
It was just a hockey play. The Sharks’ Evander Kane collided with the Hawks’ Dylan Strome, who plowed into Crawford’s head, driving it back into the goalpost. Sometimes that’s all it takes — just a hockey play — to change everything.
Will Crawford, who spent 10 months recovering from a concussion suffered last year at this time, play again?
Crawford will turn 34 on New Year’s Eve. He’ll have reasons to celebrate and lots to think about.
He turned 33 eight days after leaving a game against the Devils, his 2017-18 season — unbeknownst to him — already over. By the way, it’s easy to forget how marvelously Crawford had played to that point. His was 16-9-2 with a career-high .929 save percentage.
Without him, the Hawks fell apart, tumbling into last place, allowing their most goals — 254 — in more than a decade and missing the playoffs for the first time since then-coach Joel Quenneville had arrived to strike up the band.
The Hawks have yet to pick up the pieces this season. How much of that responsibility falls on Crawford, who’s having his worst statistical season, is debatable, but goaltending is far down the list of the team’s problems. Or it was before a man with 236 career victories — the third-most in franchise history — caught the cruel, heavy brunt of more terrible luck.
‘‘He’s been great,’’ defenseman Duncan Keith said. ‘‘He’s been everything that we could ask from him. We definitely don’t give our goalies much support out there.’’
It might be that the story of Crawford’s playing career is far from over. We know more than ever about the insidious danger posed by brain injuries, and not every concussion is a mountain to climb. Hawks center Artem Anisimov is close to playing a little more than a week after suffering a concussion.
Might Crawford be back relatively soon, too? Will the Hawks find success again — someday — with him in goal? Will he ever play again?
Concussions cost Hawks coach Jeremy Colliton his own playing career, so, naturally, he was looked to Sunday for some wisdom.
‘‘I think a concussion is a concussion,’’ he said, searching for the right words. ‘‘Every one is different. Every concussion is different. We’ll see.’’
The two Hawks goalies who won more games than Crawford are Tony Esposito and Glenn Hall. Their numbers — 35 and 1 — hang from the rafters of the United Center.
Maybe Crawford can’t match their All-NHL honors, their Vezina Trophies, their Hall of Fame credentials. But he stood as tall as a mountain for two Stanley Cup title runs, didn’t he? It isn’t wrong to think the No. 50 could fly high above the ice someday.
It’s a nice thing to think about, if only for a minute.