Time to see if ‘Crow’ flies
Crawford likely to start with severity of Lehner’s knee injury up in the air
As the injuries piled up this season, the Blackhawks stayed in playoff contention largely because Robin Lehner played spectacularly while unseating Corey Crawford as the No. 1 goalie.
Turns out, however, Lehner is not indestructible.
The Hawks will be without Lehner for Sunday’s game against the Red Wings at the United Center and possibly longer because of a right knee injury suffered in their 7-5 road loss to the Canucks on Thursday.
The injury occurred late in the third period when Canucks forward Tanner Pearson fell on Lehner’s right knee after a shove from behind from Jonathan Toews. After a visit from Hawks trainer Mike Gapski, Lehner stayed in the game.
Lehner had a large ice pack on the knee afterward but insisted it was “good” and wouldn’t be a problem.
But Lehner sat out of practice Saturday at Fifth Third Arena, and the Hawks called up goalie Kevin Lankinen from Rockford on an emergency basis.
“We’re still trying to figure out exactly how serious it is,” coach Jeremy Colliton said of Lehner’s injury. “But he didn’t skate.”
Lankinen, 24, is 7-7-1 with a .905 save percentage in 15 games with the IceHogs and is their lone representative in the AHL All-Star Game.
So for the time being, Crawford will get a shot to prove he again should be sharing time with Lehner.
“He hasn’t played much lately,” Colliton said, “so he’s going to be excited to get in.”
Crawford and Lehner were largely splitting starts until Dec. 23 against the Devils, when Crawford allowed four goals on 16 shots. After giving up the fourth goal, Crawford waved to the coaching staff to take him out and hasn’t played since.
“I definitely think I can still make an impact,” Crawford said Saturday after practice. “But Lenny’s been playing great, so (Colliton’s) choice was to stick with him, and we got some big wins. … I get a chance here so just trying to be ready.”
Lehner relieved Crawford against the Devils and since started four consecutive games, his longest stretch of the season. It was also the most consecutive games Crawford hasn’t played while being healthy since Ray Emery twice started six straight games during the 2011-12 season.
The Hawks planned to open the season with Crawford as their starting goalie until Lehner surprisingly became available via free agency in July. General manager Stan Bowman quickly swooped in and signed Lehner to a one-year, $5 million deal.
Crawford got off to a slow start but turned things around and in November, posting a .941 save percentage over seven starts.
But beginning with a Nov. 29 loss to the Avalanche in which he allowed five goals, Crawford failed to keep pace with Lehner’s solid play. Crawford went 1-6 with an .877 save percentage over eight starts and assumed the unfamiliar role — for him — as the backup.
“That Jersey one was obviously a rough one,” Crawford said. “I don’t think I’ve been playing bad. Just got to make that extra big save. I’ve had some good starts. I’ve just got to keep going, keep working hard. It’s not going to be easy, so just be prepared. Just play hockey.”
When the Hawks signed Lehner, it was viewed as insurance in case Crawford suffered a serious injury for a third straight season. He missed the final three months of the 2017-18 season with a concussion and two months last season with another concussion.
But Crawford has been healthy and now has a chance to help keep the Hawks afloat while Lehner recovers.
“(Lehner) has been our best player, most consistent player all year and a big reason why we’re in what you’d call a playoff hunt right now,” Patrick Kane said. “This is probably the situation they thought of when (they) signed both guys. If one gets injured, you have the other one available and ready to go.
“I think Crow’s probably looking forward to the opportunity. He’s a great goaltender. He’s even played very well for us this year, so I’m sure he’s excited about getting back in there.”
It’s hard to tell with Crawford, whose laid-back demeanor is the same whether he’s starting for a Stanley Cup contender or a backup for a team trying to stay in the playoff race.
Despite the recent slump that led to Lehner getting four straight starts, Crawford said he won’t do anything differently.
“No, not at all,” he said. “Trying to prepare the same way every time and trying to be at my best every time. Not playing for a few games hopefully I can get the feelings going right away and feel good. We’ll see. I’ll just play hard and try to be at my best.”
“I don’t think I’ve been playing bad. Just got to make that extra big save.” — Corey Crawford
Corey Crawford gives up a goal against the Devils. He was pulled after allowing the goal, the fourth of the game, and hasn’t played since.