Blackhawks

Hawks fighting for their playoff lives once again

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Hawks fighting for their playoff lives once again

The Chicago Blackhawks wanted to avoid last seasons mad dash to the playoffs. They wanted a great start to this season to give them some cushion, to put themselves in a good spot so they werent sweating out those final regular-season games.

They got the start. But a rough February has them exactly where they didnt want to be: uncertain and fighting for their postseason lives.

The Blackhawks have 17 games remaining to hold onto their current sixth-place spot, or to move up, in the Western Conference. They had that leeway on Jan. 20, when a victory over the Florida Panthers had them sitting pretty with 64 points. But with a nine-game winless streak and generally skittish play since, the Blackhawks have gained just 11 points since then (75 points).

Theyve gotten into that dangerous territory again. And now with the pressure of staying in the top eight, every one of their remaining regular-season games is going to feel like a playoff game.

You try not to think about it but thats how its going to feel. Either you like it or you dont but right now were in that spot, Marian Hossa said. Now we have to go game by game, especially on this road trip. Its going to be a good challenge; were going to see where were at.

And the Blackhawks hope they see themselves somewhere in the top eight. With 17 games remaining, how many points will it take to assure then of that? Last season, the Blackhawks took eighth place with 97 points. The season before, it was 95 points; 91 points earned eighth place in 2007-08 and 2008-09.

Duncan Keiths had his eye on the standings.

Its important to understand that, first and foremost, to know where were at, he said. Its just about knowing our situation and knowing how important every game is.

Now its about getting there. The Blackhawks have struggled for consistency for more than a month now, and their schedule wont be breezy. Theyve got Central Division foes Detroit, St. Louis and Nashville two more times each. This trip of Ottawa, the Red Wings and Blues on the road will be tough.

We have to be better on the road, said coach Joel Quenneville, whose Blackhawks are 12-17-3 away from the United Center this season. With three teams playing as good as any are, we need to be strong in a lot of areas. We need our A game tonight. We dont want to look past tonights game. Lets be ready from the start, sound, responsible.

The Blackhawks will focus on one at a time but the big picture looms large. It looked like they were going to avoid this intense finale this season. Now theyre battling once again for their postseason lives.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Corey Crawford is BACK, are the Bulls legitimate playoff contenders?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Corey Crawford is BACK, are the Bulls legitimate playoff contenders?

Mark Lazerus and Hub Arkush join David Kaplan on the panel.

The guys discuss Corey Crawford’s return and what it means for the team’s playoff chances.

Khalil Mack misses practice again. The guys debate if it would be better to leave him out vs. the Patriots.

The latest on the MLB playoffs with controversy in Houston and gamesmanship by the Brewers.

Will Perdue and Kendall Gill join the panel to discuss Kris Dunn’s absence from the opener and the team’s playoff chances this season.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below.

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Blackhawks make it official: Corey Crawford is back

Blackhawks make it official: Corey Crawford is back

He’s back.

Corey Crawford was officially activated from injured reserve on Thursday and will start in goal for the first time since Dec. 23, 2017 when the Blackhawks host the Arizona Coyotes.

"It’s exciting," coach Joel Quenneville said. "I’m sure he’s looking forward to it and we’re all excited about it as well. It’ll be a fun situation for the guys, seeing him back in the net as well. So we’re looking for everyone to be excited about tonight’s game."

The two-time Stanley Cup champion was medically cleared to practice from his concussion on Oct. 1, but the Blackhawks wanted to give Crawford as much time as he needed to get his conditioning and puck-tracking skills up to game speed before putting him into game action.

"It feels good to be back to myself," Crawford said on Wednesday. "I'm feeling good, I'm feeling clear. It was a pretty long process. ... Practices have been great, been getting timing a little bit more and getting up to speed and reading shots and all that, so it'll be nice to finally get in one."

To make room for Crawford on the 23-man roster, the Blackhawks have assigned forward Luke Johnson to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League. Brandon Saad, who wore a white healthy scratch jersey all week at practice, will take his spot in the lineup.

For now, the Blackhawks will hang on to Anton Forsberg and carry three goaltenders as insurance as they get ready to start a seven-games-in-11-days stretch.

Crawford was 16-9-2 with a 2.27 goals against average, .929 save percentage and two shutouts in 28 games last season. The Blackhawks were 17-30-8 without him and finished last in the Central Division.