Anyone wanting to conduct a quick experiment on how a team manages life when they lose one of the best goaltenders in the league can look no further than the Chicago Blackhawks.
Corey Crawford, who sits second in save percentage among goalies who have played more than 20 games (starters, basically), will miss at least a week with a fresh injury to his upper body.
The answer to the headline, judging by Crawford’s stint on the shelf earlier this month, isn’t favorable. When Crawford missed three games with injury, the Blackhawks struggled and lost all three. So it’s not unwise to say that Chicago’s playoff picture could hinge greatly on how the team navigates the latest knock for Crawford.
Crawford has been sensational for the Blackhawks and very much the reason why the Blackhawks are even in the conversation for a playoff spot. Crawford’s importance was underlined when he rattled off five straight wins upon his return from injury earlier this month.
“He means a lot to us,” Quenneville told Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times on Wednesday. “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.”
“Great” probably doesn’t mean fun and fantastic, but rather something that presents a massive challenge to the team teetering on the playoff bubble.
The Blackhawks will have to depend on the undependable Anton Forsberg, who has one win in 11 appearances this season. Forsberg starts on Thursday night as the Blackhawks embark on a four-game road trip that goes through Western Canada before a quick stop in New York next week.
As Quenneville pointed out, the Blackhawks are going to need an uptick in their play to make up for Crawford’s absence.
While Crawford’s success has been credited to the loaded team in front of him at times in the past, there’s simply not much room for that argument this season for the two-time Stanley Cup winner. And that means Forsberg is going to have to be solid over the coming days (and maybe weeks) if the Blackhawks want to punch their playoff ticket.