One of the Blackhawks’ worst nightmares played out early in the game Sunday against the Sharks when star goalie Corey Crawford suffered a concussion on a collision at the net.
Injuries happen, but this one hits harder than most. Crawford missed 47 games because of a concussion last season and still was working his way back at the start of this one. He exited with 1:30 left in the first period, and backup Cam Ward handled the rest of a 7-3 humiliation at home.
“Great goaltender, great guy, important part of the team,” said coach Jeremy Colliton, who didn’t offer much else on the injury after the game other than delivering the brutal diagnosis. “We’ll see. We hope for a quick recovery.”
The play that ended Crawford’s night came at the end of a frenzied sequence that began with an impressive save against Logan Couture. As Crawford made the stop, the Sharks’ Evander Kane and Hawks center Dylan Strome — Kane came from behind Strome and was whistled for interference — crashed into him. The impact caused Crawford to hit the back of his head on the post. He spent about a minute on his knees before the training staff escorted him off the ice.
Strome described Kane’s move as “a hockey play” and did not think it was malicious.
“I don’t think he really hit me. He kind of rode me in,” Strome said. “He’s going to the net and trying to find a puck for a goal, so I’m sure on his mind is not to hit me and hurt Crawford.”
The moment brought the United Center crowd to near silence. Crawford was quickly ruled out for the rest of the game and did not rejoin the team on the bench.
Strome was at the scene, and the incident jarred him. He seemed somewhat apologetic even though there was nothing he could have done to avoid it.
“I hit him hard,” he said. “I was going fast. I hope he’s OK. I haven’t seen the replay. I know I was skating fast trying to get back and me and Kane both went into him. I hope he’s all right and we’ll go from there.”
Crawford was out the first two weeks before making his debut Oct. 18 against Arizona and played reasonably well in his return. He made 23 of a possible 29 starts and had a .903 save percentage coming into this game despite facing an average of 32.5 shots on goal.
Ward is the only other goalie on the active roster. The Hawks also have Anton Forsberg and Collin Delia stashed on their Rockford affiliate.
The long-term impact of the Crawford’s injury is paramount to the team and bears watching. As far as Sunday’s game was concerned, it deteriorated for the Hawks after his departure.
They jumped on the Sharks at the onset with strikes by Alex DeBrincat and Strome in the first four minutes and were up 3-2 when Crawford went out. He stopped six of eight shots, with both goals coming on fairly open looks.
The Sharks beat Ward three times in the second period and buried the Hawks for good at 6-3 on Kevin Labanc’s goal 13:03 into the third. The Sharks outshot the Hawks 43-20.
“I just don’t think we were there,” Duncan Keith said. “They picked it up a notch, and we weren’t able to match that at all.”
What began as an encouraging home stand has gone the way of most of the team’s hopes. The landmark victory over the Penguins feels as if it came ages ago.