The stars have run hot and cold, the offense has ebbed and flowed, the defense has been up and down. But there has been one constant for the Blackhawks through the first 25 games of the season: Corey Crawford has been in net, masking mistakes, bailing out teammates, stealing points and at times singlehandedly keeping the Hawks above .500.
“He’s been our best player all year, no doubt,” Patrick Kane said. “Very consistent. He’s been rock solid back there all year. He’s been awesome.”
But for the third time in four seasons, Crawford’s hot start has been derailed by injury. The Hawks put Crawford on injured reserve Friday with an undisclosed injury and recalled journeyman goaltender J-F Berube from Rockford.
Crawford will have to miss a minimum of seven days (injured reserve differs from long-term injured reserve, which requires a player to miss at least 10 games and 24 days, but which provides salary-cap relief).
A source said the injury isn’t a long-term situation, but that Crawford is “week-to-week.”
Early December has been disastrous for Crawford in recent seasons. A year ago Saturday, he was rushed to a Philadelphia hospital with appendicitis, and he missed 10 games. It took him several weeks to round back into form after the surgery. Three years ago Friday, Crawford injured his ankle at a Rise Against concert at the House of Blues, and he missed eight games.
But in those instances, the Hawks relied on Scott Darling or Antti Raanta, respectively, and both played well in Crawford’s absence. This season, the Hawks have a relative unknown in Anton Forsberg, who is 1-2-2 with a .904 save percentage and 3.67 goals-against average. The 26-year-old Berube has a .900 save percentage and 3.10 GAA in 21 career NHL games with the Islanders. He is 6-6-0 with a .913 save percentage and 2.54 GAA with the Rockford IceHogs this season, having cooled off after a terrific start.
Crawford, meanwhile, was 11-7-2 with a sparkling .930 save percentage (third among No. 1 goaltenders in the league) and 2.29 GAA. He made 31 saves in Thursday’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Stars, whom the Hawks visit Saturday. There were at least two times during the game when Crawford appeared slow to get up, and he seemed to struggle coming across the crease on Mattias Janmark’s wraparound goal in the first period, but he finished the game without incident.
With the standings as tight as they are and the Hawks fighting to get back into the playoff picture, the magnitude of Crawford’s loss can’t be overstated. Even with all the big names on the roster, there simply isn’t a more irreplaceable player.
“Some of those nights where we don’t play so hot, we can get outshot 40-some to 25-30 shots or whatever, and we’re still in the game somehow — he’s a huge part of that,” Jonathan Toews said earlier in the season, during the depths of the Hawks’ early season struggles. “I think some of those games, too, where we have a ton of penalties to kill, you need your goaltender to be on and stopping everything, and he’s been doing that.”
As the Hawks have gone through their ups and downs this season, his teammates have consistently pointed to Crawford as the most important guy on the ice.
“It’s great to have that in our net,” Ryan Hartman said this week. “He’s a tough goalie to play against. He’s always in the right spot. Even on a rebound, he always seems to get a pad over there. It’s nice to have that behind us, knowing that [he’s] going to stop a couple of their Grade-A chances and we’re going to turn that into offense.”
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