Craig Anderson impressed by 'hotbed of hockey' in Chicago

Craig Anderson impressed by 'hotbed of hockey' in Chicago

LAS VEGAS – Ottawa Senators goaltender Craig Anderson was one of those kids who grew up playing hockey in the Chicago area when it wasn’t incredibly popular. To see how popular youth hockey is there now, the Park Ridge native is impressed.

“Hockey in Chicago’s grown quite a bit, Triple-A, Double-A, the last 15-20 years it’s exploded,” said Anderson of Chicago, where the NHL Draft will be held this weekend. “I’ve been able to see it first-hand when I grew up and see what it is today. I still have lots of friends who are coaching. It’s one of those things that, since [Patrick] Kane and [Jonathan] Toews came in, it’s been the hotbed of hockey in the states.”

Anderson will continue to do his goalie school in the Chicago area; he said this summer he will do one in West Dundee but not at Johnny’s IceHouse. This week, however, Anderson is in Vegas as a nominee for the Masterton Trophy, given annually to the player who represents heart, perseverance and dedication.

It was a trying season for Anderson, who took several leaves of absence from the Senators this season as his wife, Nicholle, battled cancer. He came back to help the Senators reach the Eastern Conference final. Anderson said the great support he got from everyone, plus the right approached, was beneficial for him and his wife.

“It’s definitely been a year of ups and downs, being optimistic and staying positive has been the key,” Anderson said. “We’ve always looked forward and set our eye on the goal of being positive and always looking ahead.”

[MORE BLACKHAWKS: Bryan Bickell will be honored at NHL Awards for perseverance he showed last season]

While the Senators’ playoff run ended in late May, the Andersons got great news around the same time: Nicholle announced on Twitter on May 27 that she was cancer free. Craig said Nicholle is doing well but “every day’s a little bit of a challenge.”

“She’s still trying to get her strength back," he said. "She’ll have a good day and the next day will be a low-key day where she has to rest. But for the most part, things are getting back to normal,” Anderson said. “She goes, goes goes and then she needs the rest. She can’t go the way she used to but it’s starting to come back.”

Blackhawks' Corey Crawford heating up just in time for Stanley Cup Playoffs

Blackhawks' Corey Crawford heating up just in time for Stanley Cup Playoffs

The biggest storyline of Blackhawks training camp 2.0 was Corey Crawford missing the first 12 days because he had tested positive for COVID-19. He showed up on the final practice day in Chicago, which was exactly one week from the start of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers against the Edmonton Oilers.

The Blackhawks did everything they could to get him ready for Game 1, but you knew it would take him a while to get back into top form. And it has.

In the first three games against the Oilers, Crawford allowed 13 goals on 92 shots for a save percentage of .859 and had a minus-5.68 goals saved above average, according to Natural Stat Trick, which ranked dead last among all goaltenders. 

But when the Blackhawks needed him most in Game 4, Crawford delivered. 

The two-time Stanley Cup champion turned aside 41 of 43 shots for a save percentage of .953 in Friday’s 3-2 series-clinching win against the Oilers, including all 18 in the third period, a handful of which came from high-danger areas.

"He's a huge part of our team and he played real well today," Dominik Kubalik said. "I thought he was our best player."

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To take it a step further: Crawford stopped 16 of 18 shots from the slot and had nine saves from the inner slot, which is the third-most in a game by any goaltender this postseason, according to Sportlogiq. The Oilers had an expected goals for rate of 4.33 but scored only twice, which means Crawford saved the Blackhawks 2.33 goals.

It was a vintage performance between the pipes for No. 50.

"Obviously it wasn't the best scenario," Crawford said of having just one week to get ramped up for the qualifying round. "I would have liked to have had a few more weeks of practice and see more pucks coming into the series. But it is what it is. I think I felt way better each game, playing each game and just seeing different scenarios and situations. Once you get more of that, just the better you feel. Tonight was obviously better."

Despite turning in a terrific outing on Friday, Crawford admitted “there’s still some work to do” before he feels like in peak form. But if he gets there in time for the beginning of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Blackhawks could be a dangerous underdog team.

"I was able to kind of hide back there until I started feeling comfortable," Crawford said. "Still don't think I'm at the top of my game, but it was definitely better today."

Podcast: Blackhawks move on with 3-2 series-clinching win over the Oilers

Podcast: Blackhawks move on with 3-2 series-clinching win over the Oilers

It's been 5 years since the Hawks have won a playoff series and it feels so good. Host Pat Boyle is joined by Blackhawks analyst Steve Konroyd as they discuss the series-clinching Game 4 win over the Oilers, the importance of the win, and a look ahead to what's next for the Hawks.

(1:10) - Hawks were given a lottery ticket into the playoffs this year

(6:41) - Hawks still need to fix a few things

(10:00) - Jeremy Colliton tried 2 different lines with Kane in the series

(15:30) - The young players on the Hawks stepped up big this series

(18:48) - How do the Hawks match up against the Vegas Knights and Colorado Avalanche?

Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest Blackhawks news and analysis.