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Corey Crawford gets much-needed start in season finale

Corey Crawford hasn't played since March 14. (AP Photo)

COLUMBUS, Ohio — It didn’t matter so much how Corey Crawford played Saturday night. It just mattered that he played.

“Just to get the speed; that was a quick game,” Crawford said after the Blackhawks’ 5-4 overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets in Saturday night’s season finale. “It’s good to get into a game and kind of see certain situations — get a feel for it going into the playoffs.”

Crawford certainly looked a little rusty in giving up five goals on 25 shots in his first game since March 14. But he declared himself ready to go for Game 1 on either Wednesday or Thursday, and his teammates have no doubt he will be. While Crawford — a goalie who always feels better the more he plays — would have preferred to have gotten a few games in before the playoffs, one is better than none.

“He’s a gamer,” Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “I think one game for him, and he’ll be ready to go. He’s one of those goalies that when it’s more competitive and [in the] playoffs, he’s always in the past been one of our best players. So I think he’ll get back really quick.”

Behind a patchwork Blackhawks lineup that was missing Hjalmarsson (resting), Duncan Keith (suspended), Jonathan Toews (resting), Marian Hossa (injured), Artem Anisimov (injured), Andrew Shaw (injured), and Viktor Svedberg (left game in second period with a lower-body injury), Crawford had a tough night, as the Hawks squandered a three-goal lead.

He was tested early and often by the Blue Jackets, who peppered him with six shots in the first three minutes of the game. After blanking Columbus in the first period, Crawford yielded four goals on six shots — to Scott Hartnell, Matt Calvert and Brandon Saad in the second, and to Alexander Wennberg in the third — as a 3-0 lead became a 4-3 deficit, and eventually a 5-4 loss.

“It’s hard after missing some games to come in,” Crawford said. “There are some things I thought I did well, and obviously some other things that didn’t go too well. It’s good to get in there and get a feel for it.”

Joel Quenneville agreed.

“Getting that game under his belt was the best thing for him, and for us,” Quenneville said. “It was a big step.”

In Crawford’s absence, Scott Darling played well, going 6-3-2, but Crawford has been arguably the Hawks’ most important player this season. And the Hawks will need him to be at or near 100 percent in order to make another deep playoff run.

“It’s huge for him, for his progress,” Toews said of the start. “It’s huge for the team. We all know that Scotty has been playing great, and if he happens to be the guy going forward, we’re 100 percent confident with that, as well. [But] it’s nice to know that Crow is getting where he needs to be and can at least get a game under his belt going into the postseason. It’s going to help him out.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com
Twitter: @marklazerus