When Patrick Kane went down with a broken collarbone against the Florida Panthers a couple of weeks ago, the reaction from those that follow the Chicago Blackhawks was, understandably, immediate panic. Losing one of the league's top point-getters and a shoe-in for a nomination as a Hart Trophy finalist, some wondered how far the Hawks could go without one of the game's most impactful players.
Then they remembered that, oh, the Blackhawks still had a ton of scoring depth. While losing Kane would hurt, the likes of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Brandon Saad, and Marian Hossa, among others, would keep them afloat for a time while they waited for their superstar to heal. Yet, in five games without Kane, they've managed to score just 10 goals overall, five of which came in their win over Carolina back on March 2nd.
Which has put a lot of pressure on the goaltending to not only keep them in games, but perhaps steal some of them as well. The offense has gone missing, for sure, but in its absence, Corey Crawford has found a rhythm that he had early in the year. After his return from injury, after that unfortunate fall at a concert, he wasn't the same guy. He didn't move as well and simply didn't seem as confident in the crease as he had early on.
Just a few weeks later, though, and we're once again talking about Corey Crawford being a reason that the Blackhawks are in games, let alone winning them.
A recent shootout win against the Edmonton Oilers illustrates that point pretty well. The Hawks were unable to get on the score sheet against a miserable Edmonton Club for the better part of three periods, evening things up at one halfway through the third. They managed to pull the game out in a shootout. Meanwhile, Crawford posted a career high for saves, with 46 on the evening. If Crawford doesn't demonstrate that type of play, the Hawks likely aren't walking away with a single point off of a team that they needed to take two from.
In the Hawks' most recent matchup, Monday night's loss to the New York Rangers, they failed to get on the board at all, falling 1-0. Yet, Crawford provided them with every opportunity to take a lead, as the only goal he surrendered was the overtime winner for New York. He finished with 35 saves on the night, with no offense to back him. You could very well liken him to an upper tier pitcher that gets very little run support. He's 2014 Jeff Samardzija right now.
Sure, Crawford had a couple of duds in back-to-back performances against Colorado and Boston, but overall he's gone for two or less goals in seven of his last nine starts. In his last four starts, he's allowed only four goals overall, including a shutout in the "revenge game" against the Panthers. His game is rounding into form at the right time. It's the rest of the Hawks that need to catch up.
There's certainly the question of how long the Blackhawks can continue to ride Crawford and expect to continue seeing points accrue in the standings. The offense will eventually need to show up to back him, but for now Crawford is doing his part in helping the Blackhawks remain a threat in the Western Conference, even without Patrick Kane in the mix. Of course, that won't stop the Crawford haters one bit. But it should.
Randy Holt is a staff writer for Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RandallPnkFloyd.