Coach Joel Quenneville wondered how Corey Crawford would look coming off a three-week injury hiatus.
Sure, Crawford’s had several practices over the past week, and faced shots from teammates the last few days. But game timing and situations are always different than practice, so the curiosity was there.
Crawford answered any doubt. Unfortunately, he didn’t get enough help from his teammates.
Crawford stopped 32 of 34 shots but took the loss when the Colorado Avalanche came back to beat the Blackhawks in overtime, 2-1, on Friday night. The Blackhawks head into the Christmas break atop the Western Conference with 50 points. Their lead, however, will be a tight one when they return to post-Christmas play. The Minnesota Wild, which have won 10 in a row, are just four points behind them.
Jonathan Toews scored his first goal since Nov. 6, a power-play goal that gave the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead at the time. Artemi Panarin had the primary assist on that goal, running his point streak to seven consecutive games.
Crawford, who’s been sidelined since Dec. 3, when he had an appendectomy, looked strong and agile in his return. As the Blackhawks got off to another slow start, he didn’t, stopping eight shots before the Blackhawks recorded their second shot at the other end. Crawford made several big stops, including a lunging stick save on Nikita Zadorov in the second period. But an Avalanche 2-on-1, led and finished by Nathan MacKinnon, cost him the potential victory in overtime.
“Yeah, I was just trying to feel good right from the start. I was reading plays pretty good. That’s the most important thing is seeing the puck well, obviously is the first thing, but reading plays and reacting after that,” Crawford said. “I felt pretty good.”
[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]
Brian Campbell figured Crawford, who heard the “Corey, Corey” chant a few times on Friday, would snap back quickly.
“I think Corey knows how to get himself ready and he had time to practice this week. Yeah, I don’t think there’s any question with us,” Campbell said. “He made the crowd roar a little bit tonight so it was pretty cool to see that display.”
The rest of the Blackhawks, though, were a bit lackluster. They didn’t get enough sustained traffic around Calvin Pickard, who had a strong night, too, in stopping 38 of 39 shots. The lack of traffic was frustrating for Quenneville.
“Not enough, not enough,” Quenneville said. “We had the puck a lot in the offensive zone but not too much inside.”
As Quenneville said, some Blackhawks played well, some didn’t. One who definitely played well was Toews, who finished with a game-high seven shots on goal and also won 20 of 28 faceoffs. He broke his lengthy goal-less streak in the second period, swatting home Panarin’s shot for a power-play goal.
The Blackhawks wrap up a very busy portion of their schedule. They’ve done pretty well up to this point, despite injuries and slow starts. A big part of their success has been goaltending. Crawford, even after a lengthy injury break, was once again giving the Blackhawks a chance on Friday.