The Chicago Blackhawks aren’t the only team to lose their No. 1 goalie in the middle of a season with playoff expectations. To get an idea of what’s happened to other teams that lost their netminder for significant portions of a season, here are some teams that faced the same predicament currently affecting the Blackhawks:
Carey Price, 2015-16 Montreal Canadiens
In the 2015-16 season, the Montreal Canadiens lost goaltender Carey Price to an injury on November 25 that would cost him the rest of the season. When Price got hurt, the Habs were 17-4-2 with a league-leading 36 points. But Montreal went 21-34-4 the rest of the season, falling out of a playoff spot.
Jaroslav Halak, 2015-16 New York Islanders
Halak was lost for the season to an injury in March, and backup Thomas Greiss took over, just in time for New York to lose seven of their next nine games. But the Islanders rebounded, winning seven of their next nine to clinch a playoff spot before falling to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Craig Anderson, 2016-17 Ottawa Senators
Starting goaltender Craig Anderson played in about half of the Senators’ games that season while tending to his wife, Nicholle, who was battling throat cancer. Anderson missed two months of action beginning in December, while backup Mike Condon handled the net. Ottawa kept pace in Anderson’s absence, then won 11 of 15 games when he returned in February. Sparked by his emotional return, the Senators ran to the Eastern Conference Final and were an overtime goal away from reaching the Stanley Cup Final.
Jonathan Quick, 2016-17 Los Angeles Kings
Quick went down with a lower-body injury in the first game of the season. He missed about 60 games, not returning to the Kings until the end of February. The Kings were in the middle of the wild card battle when Quick returned, but faded down the stretch before missing out on the playoffs.
Semyon Varlamov, 2017-18 Colorado Avalanche
Did you know that the Avalanche are on a 7-game winning streak? And did you know that they’ve won the last five of those games without their starting goaltender? Varlamov was sidelines with a groin strain on January 2, and backup Jonathan Bernier has performed admirably in that time span. Varlamov is expected to return to the lineup soon, though. And his absence is nowhere near as lengthy as Crawford’s has been.
What does it all mean?
Excellent question, because there’s no set answer. Some teams have gotten along just fine with their backup goalie, while other teams plummeted out of playoff sight. So far this season, the Hawks are 16-9-2 with Corey Crawford in the lineup and just 6-8-4 without him. But with the Hawks on the outside of the playoff standings while in the middle of their bye week, that record without Crawford must improve if the playoffs are going to become a reality.
Take a moment.
Imagine this scenario in your head. For the next three months, something clicks. Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad start playing like it’s 2015 again. Patrick Kane and Nick Schmaltz continue their wizardry. Alex DeBrincat finds instant chemistry with Anthony Duclair, giving the Hawks three legit scoring lines. On defense, Jordan Oesterle continues to impress while paired with Duncan Keith, and the remaining D corps performs adequately. In net, Anton Forsberg plays solid — though not spectacular — to give his team a chance at two points in each game. And Chicago racks up just enough points to sneak into a wild card spot. And then Crawford comes back, and the Hawks win one playoff game. And then another. And then another. All the way up to 16 postseason victories and a fourth Stanley Cup title.
Is it probable? Almost certainly not. But by the definition of the word, it is possible. And if that thought hasn’t crossed your mind at some point in the last 18 hours, then I don’t know why the hell you bother watching sports in the first place.