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Corey Crawford's return to Blackhawks 'probably not that far away'

Paul Skrbina, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Hockey

The masked man was outfitted in all black and flanked by a few teammates Monday morning at MB Ice Arena.

For the third straight day, Corey Crawford was on the ice in full Blackhawks armor, this time taking shots -- and instruction -- from goalie coach Jimmy Waite as he took another step toward returning from injured reserve.

Coach Joel Quenneville called Crawford's workout before practice "a good sign." And it's a sign Crawford, 33, could begin practicing with the team soon. He has been on IR with what the Hawks called an upper-body injury -- reported to be either vertigo-like or concussion-related symptoms -- since Dec. 27.

"It's probably not that far away," Quenneville said.

Once that happens, Quenneville said, Crawford's first game action since Dec. 23 could soon follow.

"I don't think he'll be too far away, once he's practicing with us, that he'd be able to play," said Quenneville, who has been steadfast that Crawford would return this season.

Five television cameras and several sets of watchful eyes focused on Crawford, who soon was joined in his workout by fellow goalies Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass and teammates Jordan Oesterle, Jan Rutta, David Kampf and Erik Gustafsson.

Crawford hasn't played since he was pulled during the first period of a loss against the Devils after allowing three goals on seven shots. He is 16-9-2 with a .929 save percentage and 2.27 goals-against average, the latter two among league leaders at the time of his injury.

He didn't look to be at full speed while moving side to side as Waite fired pucks in his direction -- all above the waist -- during a drill.

While the Hawks are looking forward to Crawford getting back, Patrick Kane said the team "can't be sitting around waiting for him."

The Hawks entered Monday in last place in the Central Division and five points and four teams out of the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference. They likely will need more than a healthy Crawford to make a meaningful push for the playoffs.

Kane said the team's in-game approach doesn't change, though, regardless of its goalie.

"We try to play the same way no matter what," Kane said. "Glasser was unbelievable last game, maybe one of the sole reasons we had a point (in a 4-3 overtime loss against the Flames). He ... kept us in the game. But Crow's a great goaltender. When he's ready to come back, it'll be great to have him in there."

The Hawks are 7-7-3 since Crawford was put on the shelf and still fighting to continue a playoff streak that stretches back nine seasons.

They lost all three games Crawford missed in early December with an upper-body injury, part of a five-game skid. They won five in a row after he returned.

Since Crawford's latest injury, backups Forsberg (4-4-0, .913 save percentage, 2.63 goals-against average) and Glass (3-3-3, .908, 3.24) have helped keep the team's hopes afloat.

"Both goalies have been very good and both deserve the net," Quenneville said. "You measure the performance, probably identical."

Measuring Crawford's progress has proved more difficult.

The timetable for his possible return to games has, for the most part, remained a mystery as the Hawks have waited for him to return to the ice for workouts. Now that he's there, that timetable has become a bit clearer.

"With anyone's recovery, there's always a process that's in place," Quenneville said. "You always want to push it as much as you can. When it's time, it's time. You want to make sure you're 100 percent ready to go."

Which goalie will go to Rockford when Crawford is 100 percent also remains a mystery.

"We'll worry about that (later)," Quenneville said.

(c)2018 Chicago Tribune

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