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Something to Crow about: Blackhawks’ Corey Crawford on track for Thursday return

Patrick Kane streaked in on a breakaway, switched the puck to his forehand and unloosed a low screamer that met goaltender Corey Crawford’s left leg pad. Kane grabbed the rebound and fired low to Crawford’s stick side, but a second kick save negated the threat.

Not a minute later, Crawford made a point-blank glove save on Jonathan Toews.

These were merely drills in a standard Blackhawks practice — nothing to see here, right? — but they painted a picture for anyone watching of what the rest of the season could look like.

Crawford, in his 12th season with the Hawks, is on the doorstep of his first game since Dec. 23, 2017. Will he be in net Thursday against the Coyotes at the United Center? The answer should come Wednesday, but all signs pointed to yes as the week got going.

Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford appears set for a Thursday return to the ice. | Getty Images

In the nearly 10 months since Crawford left a game in New Jersey after allowing three quick goals, his health instantly in question, the Hawks have seen one reasonably promising season go off the rails and another — only five games old — rekindle some of the excitement among fans.

But this 3-0-2 start, with all five games going to overtime, has occurred despite the Hawks surrendering 21 goals. Some of that is on goalie Cam Ward’s shoulders. Much of it can be attributed to shaky overall defense.

Regardless, wouldn’t anyone agree that life for the Hawks should be better and steadier — perhaps instantly so — with a two-time All-Star and two-time Stanley Cup winner back in the fold?

No concussion, least of all one with the insidious staying power that laid Crawford low for so long, is to be taken lightly. It might be awhile before he fully returns to form. Still, it’ll be mighty good to see No. 50 between the pipes again.

“Yeah, of course,” Kane said. “I mean, he’s an unbelievable goaltender. And not only that, he’s a great friend to a lot of us in the room. So we love seeing him around the rink, we love joking around with him, we love conversing with him and just having him around. But, obviously, when you think of the on-ice stuff, he’s such a great goaltender [and] probably still very underrated in this league.”

It’s easy to forget just how good Crawford was before his 2017-18 campaign was derailed. His 16-9-2 record spoke for itself, and his .929 save percentage was a career best. But those terrific numbers disappeared in the fog of what became a last-place season during which the Hawks allowed their most goals — 254 — in over a decade.

Who remembers the ugly 2005-06 season? Back then, soon-to-be-jettisoned coach Trent Yawney lived in general manager Dale Tallon’s doghouse and goalie Nikolai Khabibulin put on arguably the worst statistical performance of his career. Was the 2017-18 season as miserable a time for the Hawks? Some would say it was even worse.

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Enter — make that re-enter — Crawford. Will his presence re-establish the Hawks as a playoff contender? Shorter-range view: Will he grab hold of the No. 1 job and become a workhorse again?

“In a perfect world, you’d say yes,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “But we’ll see how he’s handling it and gauge it. Cam has done a pretty good job of doing what he has to do, as well, so that could be part of the discussion.”

Yet there Crawford was in the aforementioned practice, gliding across the goalmouth to stab a wicked Artem Anisimov shot with his glove. It was a heck of a save, really, which the veteran center acknowledged as soon as Quenneville’s next whistle came. Anisimov skated over to Crawford and tapped him on the helmet before the two bumped gloves.

No, it didn’t make the short list of Crawford’s finest moments. It didn’t make the long list, either. But he’s right there on that doorstep, a long wait all but over — and the picture of a season undeniably brightened.