Chicago Blackhawks v Vancouver Canucks - Game Seven

Can Corey Crawford avoid the dreaded sophomore slump?

The last we saw of Corey Crawford, he was skating off the ice in Vancouver after Alex Burrows buried the series-clinching goal over his blocker in overtime of Game 7. The Canucks went on to get within 60 minutes of their first Stanley Cup in franchise history; while the Blackhawks were sent home trying to figure out what went wrong in the season they were supposed to defend Lord Stanley’s chalice. Slow starts, lack of motivation at the beginning of the season, or an injury in the playoffs. Plenty of people had plenty of answers. But one of the biggest question marks going into the season evolved into one of the team’s strengths by the end of the season.

The NHL was introduced to Corey Crawford.

With the early exit of 2010-11 in the rearview mirror, Crawford looks to build on the momentum he created for himself in the second half of last season. He came into camp as Marty Turco’s back-up—at best he hoped to platoon with the former Dallas Stars netminder. But it only took a couple of months to show the Hawks coaching staff that he gave the team the best opportunity to win on a nightly basis. By the end of the season, he had 33 wins, a .917 save percentage, 2.30 goals against, and was viewed by many to be a viable Calder Trophy candidate. But that was last year.

There’s a difference between competing for a place on the team and understanding that the starting job is already a done-deal. Last season, he was competing just to turn himself into an NHL goaltender on an NHL roster. Now that particular fuel is gone with the thirst for an NHL job freshly quenched. Will he be able to find the same drive while he tries to take the next step from pleasant surprise to the man that the entire organization is depending on this season? Crawford has already spoken about the difference this training camp:

“There is a little bit different feeling. It’s nice to know you have a three-year deal coming into camp, but at the same time I’m so focused to earn that ice time and show the guys – even the new guys – that you’re the guy to gain their confidence.”

He’s not the only one who has confidence that he’ll be able to put up a repeat performance this season. Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville expects the same type of performance from his young netminder this season. In fact, he expects him to be even better.

“He really shouldered a lot for us last year,” Quenneville said. “He was consistent in big games and big settings. Nothing changes his approach and you’ve got to commend him for doing that. We see him only growing from those levels. He can continue to improve and hopefully elevate his game to become a top goaltender in our League.”

Surely the same thing was said about Steve Mason after his Calder Trophy winning rookie season in Columbus. The trick for Crawford will be to carry the same drive he had when he was trying to make the NHL this season. No longer is he simply trying to make the team—he has that part down. Now he’s trying to improve into a goaltender that will be around for years to come. For young players, and goaltenders in particular, it’s easier said than done.

Professional athletes aren’t trained to think about failure. If they put in the work, by and large they will succeed. That’s why they’re in the NHL to begin with. But sometimes younger players forget all of the hard work that it takes to get to the NHL and let the offseason training slip a bit in the offseason once they’ve accomplished themselves. We’ll see if Crawford can perform for the Hawks like he did last season. If he can improve upon his numbers last season, Chicago will be a dangerous team in the Western Conference. If not, they better figure that back-up goaltending role in a hurry.

Oilers recall D-man Oesterle from AHL Condors

EDMONTON, AB - FEBRUARY 23:  Jordan Oesterle #82 of the Edmonton Oilers warms up against the Ottawa Senators on February 23, 2016 at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
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The Edmonton Oilers made a move Sunday, recalling defenseman Jordan Oesterle from the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL.

In 18 games with the Condors this season, the 24-year-old Oesterle has three goals and 11 points.

The decision comes one day after Oilers defenseman Adam Larsson missed Saturday’s contest against the rival Calgary Flames because of a lower-body injury.

While he isn’t a flashy player, Larsson seems to have made a positive impression on the Oilers coaching staff during his first season in Edmonton following last summer’s blockbuster trade involving scoring winger Taylor Hall.

No surprise this development is leading to questions about the health of Larsson, with the Oilers set to begin the second half of a six-game home stand and sitting second in the Pacific Division standings.

Video: Reaves and Boll drop the gloves in heavyweight bout

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Heavyweight fighters Jared Boll and Ryan Reaves dropped the gloves during the second period of Sunday’s game between the Anaheim Ducks and St. Louis Blues.

Those were some thunderous right hands thrown there, both combatants landing their fair share of punches before officials finally intervened.

The Wild sit all alone in top spot of the Central Division

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The Minnesota Wild bested the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday, and now sit in sole possession of first place in the Central Division.

Playing the second half of a back-to-back situation that involved travel from Dallas, where Minnesota won Saturday, the Wild fell behind Chicago courtesy two goals from Patrick Kane. Sure, the first goal on Devan Dubnyk was fluttered off the stick of Kane and under the arm of the Minnesota goalie.

But Dubnyk played the remainder of this pivotal game the way Wild fans have become accustomed to since he was acquired. He made 33 saves and was busiest in the second period. Outside of Kane’s second goal, Dubnyk was solid in the middle period and didn’t give up anything the rest of the way. The Wild came back for a 3-2 win. On the road. In hostile territory.

Minnesota, not far removed from a franchise-best 12-game winning streak, now sits at 61 points in 42 games, two points ahead of the Blackhawks and with four fewer games played.

Jason Pominville scored the winner early in the third period.

There are many reasons for the Wild’s success through the first half under coach Bruce Boudreau. Dubnyk’s play has been Vezina caliber. He has a .940 save percentage and a 1.77 goals-against average. Minnesota is second in the league when it comes to the lowest number of goals-against per game and only Washington is better in that category.

The Wild have been scoring plenty, too, fourth in the league with 3.19 goals-for per game, with contributions throughout their lineup.

Free agent signings can always be a risk — an expensive risk — but Eric Staal has rewarded the Wild by producing at just under a point per game rate. He could have his most productive season in several years — at the age of 32 and approaching 1,000 regular season games played.

They won’t have long to enjoy their view from the top.

The Wild host the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday to begin a four-game home stand.

More bad news for Bolts: Callahan out four weeks with lower-body injury

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 10: Ryan Callahan #24 of the Tampa Bay Lightning reacts against the Chicago Blackhawks during Game Four of the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final at the United Center on June 10, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Four points out of a playoff spot in the Atlantic Division and about to begin a six-game road trip, the Tampa Bay Lightning face a tough task trying to climb the Eastern Conference standings.

There was more bad news for the Bolts on Sunday.

Forward Ryan Callahan, who hasn’t played since Jan. 7, will miss approximately four weeks because of a lower-body injury, the club announced.

Callahan made his season debut at the end of October. The start to his season was delayed due to the recovery from hip surgery he underwent to fix an issue from last season. Based on a report from Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times on Sunday, Callahan is once again dealing with a hip injury, although the club didn’t elaborate, announcing it as a lower-body injury.

In 18 games this season, Callahan has two goals and four points.

The Bolts, Stanley Cup contenders that have gone deep into the post-season in each of the last two campaigns, are 3-6-1 in their last 10 games. Right now, Toronto, Ottawa and Florida all sit ahead of the Lightning in the battle for third in the Atlantic. Now into the second half of the season, they will have to quickly get out of this funk in order to close in the post-season race.

“The results are all that matters,” Brian Boyle told the Tampa Bay Times. “We need to change our attitude a little bit, kind of find our mojo, carry ourselves with a little bit more confidence. We can score quick goals. We can come from behind, jump out to leads and bury teams. We’ve done that in the past with this group.”

The Bolts begin this six-game road trip Monday against the L.A. Kings.