Ten days ago, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was asked straight up whether he expected goalie Corey Crawford, who has been out since Christmas with a mysterious ‘‘upper-body injury,’’ to return to the lineup this season.
‘‘Yes,’’ he said without hesitation.
But it’s not quite that certain. Three sources told the Sun-Times that Crawford is dealing with vertigo-like symptoms for the second time in his career. And there is a growing concern in the organization that Crawford might miss the rest of the season, as Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported Tuesday.
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The Hawks have been unusually tight-lipped about Crawford’s situation since putting him on injured reserve coming out of the Christmas break, leading to wild and rampant speculation in the hockey world. Asked nearly every day about Crawford’s status, Quenneville has had no updates and no timetable for his return. General manager Stan Bowman last week said: ‘‘There’s not much to say until he’s back on the ice. It’s sort of status quo right now.’’
Reached late Tuesday, a Hawks spokesman declined to comment, citing the team’s standard protocol of not discussing details of injuries.
When Crawford initially went on injured reserve, Quenneville said he would be out ‘‘indefinitely.’’ When he was asked if there was a defining blow that injured him, Quenneville said: ‘‘Not sure, exactly. I don’t want to get into details of all that.’’
Crawford was involved in a collision during the Hawks’ game Dec. 21 in Dallas, but he appeared fine and finished the game. He was back in the net two days later in New Jersey, but he looked terrible, allowing three goals in less than 14 minutes and being pulled in favor of backup Anton Forsberg. Crawford hasn’t been seen since.
Quenneville said Sunday that he hasn’t talked with Crawford recently.
‘‘It’s been quiet right now,’’ Quenneville said.
‘‘I think we’re always concerned about our teammates first and then our team second,’’ captain Jonathan Toews said when he was asked about Crawford on Sunday. ‘‘I think Crow knows he’s trying to get better. He’s one of those guys that we know we can rely upon as a person, as a teammate. He’ll do what he can to get himself better, so he can get back to playing and get back and help our team when he knows how to.’’
Crawford missed nearly four weeks near the end of the 2015-16 season, with the Sun-Times reporting he was dealing with symptoms. of vertigo. He returned in time for the Hawks’ first-round playoff series against the Blues.
Losing Crawford might be a death knell to the Hawks’ playoff hopes. By the time they emerge from their bye week Saturday, the Hawks might be several points out of a wild-card spot, with multiple teams to climb over, and only Forsberg and Jeff Glass — with a combined 27 NHL starts between them — in goal.
Crawford hasn’t been put on long-term injured reserve yet. If he is, it will free up considerable salary-cap space that the Hawks can use to acquire a goalie. But there will be nobody on the market with Crawford’s pedigree. The two-time Stanley Cup-winning goalie was in the Vezina Trophy conversation this season with a 16-9-2 record and a sparkling .929 save percentage behind the Hawks’ spotty defense.
‘‘Obviously, you’re missing him,’’ Quenneville said Sunday. ‘‘He’s been arguably our key player all year, and [with] the consistency he’s given us in the net, we know how valuable the position is and what it means to your team.
‘‘It’s almost like, ‘Oh, that’s a tremendous hole.’ As a team, you have to make an awareness that, hey, you have to contribute on the defensive side of things a little more.’’
Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.