VANCOUVER — The Blackhawks went into the Christmas break a point out of the playoff picture, a middling team desperately fighting for every point it gets. They came out of the break looking even worse.
Corey Crawford, the Hawks’ most indispensable player, is out indefinitely with an upper-body injury that coach Joel Quenneville had no interest in describing — not the nature of it, not when it happened, not how it happened. All Quenneville would say was that Crawford would be out “a bit,” likely more than the three games he missed with a nagging lower-body injury earlier this month.
Quenneville had more to say to his players. When he gathered them at center ice at Rogers Arena on Wednesday, he made it clear that every single one of them had to pick up the slack in Crawford’s absence. Nearly halfway through a season of frustrating inconsistency and baffling disappearing acts, Quenneville hopes this adversity can make the Hawks stronger in the long run.
“He means a lot to us,” Quenneville said afterward. “You look around at all the goaltenders in the league, he’s probably had the best year to date. How many goalie wins has he had? More than just a few. So we were talking today, we’re going to need everybody to absorb some responsibility here, do a little more individually, adding up collectively. And that can make us a better team. . . . It’s going to be a great test knowing that this could be our most critical part of the year.”
The Hawks lost all three games Crawford missed earlier in the month, but he returned quickly to immediately spark a five-game win streak. But he surrendered seven goals in his last two starts, getting pulled in the first period Saturday in New Jersey.
Now, it appears Crawford will miss more than just a few games. That puts an enormous amount of pressure on the shoulders of Anton Forsberg, who has played well at times with very little to show for it. In 21 NHL games, he has just two wins. This season, he’s 1-4-3 with a .909 save percentage and a 3.13 goals-against average. Crawford is 16-9-2 with a .929 save percentage (second among No. 1 goalies in the league) and a 2.27 GAA.
In his last brief stint as the Hawks’ No. 1, Forsberg suffered two hard-luck losses before giving up three goals in 15 minutes and getting pulled in Washington. He has only played a little more than two periods of relief in the three weeks since and suddenly is staring down three games in four days, with minor-league journeyman Jeff Glass as his backup. (J-F Berube is injured.)
“Well, I’m well-rested, that’s for sure,” Forsberg quipped.
Quenneville reiterated that it was everybody’s responsibility to make up for Crawford’s absence, not just Forsberg’s.
“We’ve got to find a way to get him wins,” Quenneville said. “We’ve got confidence in him. It’s how we play in front of him, the attention to detail in our own end, playing the right way. Let’s get our power play going and get him some support in that area, as well. [Glass] is fine, as well. We trust our goalies that they’re going to get it done.”
But it’s up to two goalies with precious little NHL experience to backstop the Hawks through their most dire (by Hawks standards, at least) regular-season situation since the 2010-11 season.
“This is where we’ve been all year,” Quenneville said. “Every game is huge, every game is so important to get points. We didn’t like the way we came into the break with the two tough games. That put us in a bad spot, a tough spot, and now we’ve got to start this stretch here in Canada in a positive way.”
NOTE: The Hawks also recalled forward David Kampf. Kampf, signed last May out of the Czech Republic, has seven goals and 10 assists in 30 games with the IceHogs. He was a teammate of Jan Rutta in the Czech league, and likely will center the third line Thursday against the Canucks.
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