Corey Crawford’s return a ‘game-changer’ for Blackhawks’ wild-card hopes
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Goalie Corey Crawford watched impatiently while the Blackhawks went from cellar-dwellers to being part of the playoff hunt in the last two months.
‘‘It’s been another long wait,’’ said Crawford, who has been out since December with a concussion. ‘‘It’s always tough watching from the sidelines.’’
But now it’s his turn to join in the fun. After missing 28 games, Crawford was activated from injured reserve Monday and is expected to play in at least one game on the Hawks’ three-game West Coast trip.
Excited to be back? That might be an understatement.
‘‘We’ve been playing so well that I just want to jump in and be a part of that and try and contribute as much as I can,’’ he said before the Hawks boarded a plane Tuesday for California. ‘‘Hopefully I get the feelings — the good feelings — back right away and just roll with it.’’
Crawford’s highly anticipated return might be just what the Hawks need in a tight Western Conference wild-card race.
‘‘I’m sure the guys will get a little emotional boost,’’ coach Jeremy Colliton said. ‘‘Most important, he’s a pretty good goaltender. He’s proven, tested and experienced, and that’s going to help. I think there is a belief in our room that we have what it takes, but he’ll help.’’
Crawford’s presence is felt around the dressing room. He brings a sense of reassurance to the Hawks, who are six points out of a playoff spot entering their game Wednesday against the Ducks. They know what to expect from him.
‘‘Very composed back there,’’ Colliton said. ‘‘The other thing he brings is a calmness. Nothing’s going to bother him, and that filters down to the rest of the team. We’ve been talking about, ‘Don’t get too high or low, never give up.’ He’s got that.’’
Said right wing Alex DeBrincat: ‘‘He’s really a game-changer. When you need a stop, he’s going to get it for you. We have a lot of important games coming up, and he’s going to be the same old Crow. He’s going to make the stops.’’
It’s unclear what lingering symptoms held Crawford back from returning earlier. He said he felt ‘‘pretty similar in some aspects’’ as he did with his last concussion, which sidelined him for 47 games last season and the beginning of this season. He declined to get into specifics, however.
‘‘It didn’t really matter anymore,’’ he said.
With Crawford back, the Hawks sent Collin Delia down to Rockford, where he likely will stay for the rest of the season. Delia posted a 3.48 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage with the Hawks, earning a three-year, $3 million extension in the process.
General manager Stan Bowman said he feels comfortable with Delia as the Hawks’ No. 2 goalie next season, and Colliton shares that sentiment.
‘‘Everyone knows and feels he’s going to be a big part of our future here,’’ Colliton said. ‘‘But we want him to play, and he’s going to play a lot more in Rockford. And there’s still some growth he can have in his game being down there and being the man. They’re playing important games, and hopefully he can make a difference for them.’’