Jeff Glass, Anton Forsberg holding their own in Corey Crawford’s absence
Maybe goalie Corey Crawford isn’t indispensable after all.
OK, that’s not fair. Crawford has been the most important Blackhawks player in the last couple of seasons, holding together an ever-changing lineup and bailing out his teammates time and time again. But his mysterious long-term injury coming out of the Christmas break hardly has been the death knell it was expected to be.
Since a disastrous game in Vancouver, Jeff Glass and Anton Forsberg have done more than just hold down the fort; they’ve held up the season. The Hawks have yielded only 20 goals in their last eight games, going 5-2-1 and climbing back into the playoff picture in the process.
Forsberg is 2-1-0 with a .943 save percentage. Glass is 3-1-1 with a .918 save percentage and is coming off a 31-save performance in a 2-1 victory Friday against the Jets, who had scored four or more goals in six of their last seven games.
Glass will start again in the matinee Sunday against the Red Wings, the Hawks’ last game before their bye week.
‘‘We’ve had good goaltending and consistent netminding all year,’’ coach Joel Quenneville said. ‘‘They keep doing what they’re supposed to do, and that’s make it tougher on us on [deciding] who starts and who gives us a chance every night to get points. This year, for sure, goaltending’s been good for us.’’
Not just this season. Goaltending depth behind Crawford, who has had significant trouble staying healthy, has been one of the Hawks’ defining characteristics in recent seasons. Ray Emery got Vezina Trophy votes in 2013, when he went a preposterous 17-1-0. In 2014-15, Antti Raanta was second in the league in save percentage at .936. Then Scott Darling climbed from the depths of pro hockey to displace Raanta and eventually earn a starting job with the Hurricanes. Quenneville also pointed to former third-stringer Carter Hutton, who has a .940 save percentage with the Blues.
Now come Forsberg and Glass, the latter of whose story is almost as unlikely as Darling’s. Darling climbed to the NHL from the Southern Professional Hockey League; Glass climbed to the NHL from Siberia.
Glass has spent more than two weeks talking about his feel-good story, happily indulging reporters in every city about how fortunate he feels to get his big break at 32. But he hasn’t just been feel-good; he has been flat-out good. His one hiccup came against the Western Conference-leading Golden Knights, a 5-4 loss in which he still made 38 saves.
Glass was brilliant against the Jets, stopping breakaways and point-blank shots to keep the Hawks in front in a tight game.
‘‘I’m just trying to prove myself every single day,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s really not about me anymore; it’s about the team and getting the points. I really do mean that.’’
After a poor effort Dec. 28 against the Canucks — he was hardly the sole culprit in a putrid performance by the Hawks — Forsberg has bounced back strong, too. He has allowed only five goals in three starts since, stopping 82 of 87 shots.
Make no mistake, the Hawks need Crawford back if they truly want to make a run this spring. He’s tested, he’s proven and he’s one of the best goalies in the world. In the meantime, though, Crawford’s absence has revealed depth the Hawks didn’t know they had.
‘‘It’s been a healthy situation with our goaltending,’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘And they’ve had a chance to run with it a little bit.’’