Time to see if ‘Crow’ flies

Craw­ford likely to start with sever­ity of Lehner’s knee in­jury up in the air

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - BLACKHAWKS - By Jimmy Green­field

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

ERIN HOO­LEY/CHICAGO TRI­BUNE

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.

AR­MANDO L. SANCHEZ/CHICAGO TRI­BUNE

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