The NHL put its 2019-20 season on pause March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic but remains hopeful to award the Stanley Cup at some point. Although it's unclear if or when it could return, NBC Sports Chicago will recap the season of each Blackhawks player to date in our "season in review" series. Next up is Corey Crawford.
One of the most intriguing storylines going into Blackhawks training camp this season was how the goaltending tandem would work between Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner, both of whom were going to be pending unrestricted free agents at the end of the season.
You have a two-time Stanley Cup champion on one end and a reigning Vezina Trophy finalist on another and each of them deserved their fair share of starts. It's a good problem to have if you're a coach, but the other part of the challenge is trying to keep both netminders happy.
"They both want to play 60 games, 80 games maybe,” head coach Jeremy Colliton said in November. “That's part of the team. [Patrick Kane] wants to play 60 minutes. It's how it is. Ultimately, we want to make decisions that help the team win and part of that is keeping both guys fresh, keeping both guys playing at a high level and I think that's going to be a benefit for us as the season goes on."
For most of the season, it worked.
Going into the NHL All-Star break, the Blackhawks had the sixth-best team save percentage at .913; Lehner led the way at .922 and Crawford was at .910. But coming out of the break, Crawford was lights out and Lehner was dealt to the Vegas Golden Knights at the Feb. 24 trade deadline.
From Jan. 27 and on, Crawford went 7-7-1 with a 2.46 goals-against average, .927 save percentage, 7.60 goals saved above average and 9.76 high-danger goals saved above average, which ranked No. 1 among all goaltenders over that span, according to Natural Stat Trick. He clearly got into a rhythm the more starts he got and kept the Blackhawks in the playoff race down the stretch.
"He’s been excellent, coming up with big saves when we needed them," Colliton said of Crawford at the beginning of March. "He’s been excellent for a while now. I’d have to really work to go back to find one where we didn’t like his play. It’s a big boost for our group."
With the NHL Players' Association signing off over the weekend on the NHL's proposed 24-team return-to-play format, the Blackhawks will have an opportunity to compete for a playoff spot when hockey returns. And if Crawford can get back to the level he was at before the NHL pause, don't count out the Blackhawks to catch lightning in a bottle.
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