Closer to a return? Crawford to join Blackhawks on road trip

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Corey Crawford has not appeared in a game for the Chicago Blackhawks since Dec. 23 and his absence has been a big part of the team’s struggles in the standings.

After some brief concern that his season could already be over, it seems that he is on the verge of returning to the lineup. Even though he did not travel with the team to Minnesota for their game on Saturday night against the Wild, the team announced that he will join the team in Arizona during its current three-game road trip.

Coach Joel Quenneville said he does not expect Crawford to actually play on the trip, but the fact he is joining the team and traveling with them is a pretty good sign that his return to the lineup could be imminent.

In Crawford’s absence the Blackhawks have had to rely on Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass. They have not done a terrible job, but there is a pretty significant gap between what they can provide and what a healthy Crawford provides.

When healthy Crawford has been one of the best goalies in the league and was having a tremendous season with a .928 save percentage in 28 games.

With Crawford in the lineup the Blackhawks are 16-9-2.

Without him they are only 8-13-6.

Getting Crawford back would be a huge boost for the stretch run, but it might still be a little too late to salvage the season. Entering play on Saturday the Blackhawks find themselves eight points out of a playoff spot with four teams ahead of them.

Crawford would have to play lights out down the stretch to even give them a fighting chance to overcome that deficit.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.