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Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford practices for first time since concussion

Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton will keep downplaying any strides Corey Crawford makes as he works toward a return.

He has been saying it over and over. That doesn’t mean anyone has to believe it.

Crawford was back on the ice for the first 25 minutes of practice Saturday morning, and that’s no small step. It was his first session with the team since suffering a concussion in mid-December, and it is meaningful progress.

“Great to see him out there,” Colliton said. “I wouldn’t read too much into it … but I’m happy for him that he felt good enough to be on the ice and we’ll see what happens.

Corey Crawford start for the Hawks tonight at Anaheim. | Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

“It’s definitely positive. Doesn’t tell us anything about a timeline or anything like that, but he’s closer now than he was before.”

Crawford has worked with goaltending coach Jimmy Waite before practices, but he usually skates off when team drills begin. This time, he stayed out there and took shots on goal.

The Hawks kept him in net as forwards raced in for shots, and he handled close-range and rebound drills before doing individual -exercises and leaving about halfway through practice.

With Crawford on injured reserve, the Hawks turned to veteran Cam Ward and Collin Delia the last two months. Colliton didn’t say who will start Sunday’s home game against the Red Wings.

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Delia, a minor-league call-up whose future is unclear if Crawford returns, rotated with Crawford in individual drills with Waite and came away impressed.

“It’s awesome,” Delia said. “He looked sharp. It’ll take awhile, but I was surprised he did as well as he did. That’s just how good of a goalie he is and how competitive he is.

“He’s had great success here and helped the team win big games, so we’re rooting for him to come back, regardless of what that means for me.”

Crawford hasn’t talked to the media since the injury, but his actions have spoken. There’s no reason to do all this work if he doesn’t intend to play again. Colliton has said several times he believes Crawford will return once cleared.

That’s the next step in his rehabilitation, and it’s in the hands of the medical staff. Crawford needs approval for full-contact, full-speed work, then it’s up to him whether he wants to resume playing.

That won’t be an easy decision, no matter how much he misses the game. Crawford sat out 47 games with a concussion in 2017-18 and got a late start to this season because of it. At 34 and in his 12th season, he has accomplished everything a player could want. He won two Stanley Cups, is a two-time All-Star and has an estimated $39.7 million in career earnings.

Colliton said there are still “a bunch of hurdles” to Crawford playing in a game and stressed that recovery from a concussion doesn’t always follow a smooth trajectory.

He empathizes with Crawford’s situation because lingering symptoms from concussions ended his playing career in 2013. He acknowledged having a few conversations with him about their shared -experience but has mostly given him space.

“I try to leave him alone, and I encourage the others to leave him alone, too,” Colliton said. “We ask him how he’s doing as a human, but the last thing he needs is to answer the question [of] how he’s feeling 35 times a day. It’s not helpful.

“No one wants to come back more than him, and we’ll know when he’s ready.”

Crawford will be an asset to the Hawks in their push for a playoff spot if he’s able to come back quickly and play at his usual level. He matched his career-high save percentage at .929 before the injury last season, and this season he was at .902 with a 3.28 goals-against average.

Delia has a .922 save percentage and 2.99 goals-against average, and Ward is at .891 and 3.75.