Corey Crawford’s form was a win in Blackhawks 4-1 loss
by Scott King
Thursday was finally the night for Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford. After battling back from last season’s concussion, Crawford determined he was ready to return to the Hawks’ net for the first time since December 23.
The goalie made 27 saves on 30 shots in his season debut in the Blackhawks 4-1 loss to the visiting Arizona Coyotes.
“It was nice,” Crawford said. “It was great to come back and hear our fans and be standing out there. It’s the best place to play hockey in the league. We always fill this building. It’s nice to be back out.”
The two-time Stanley Cup champ was first tested with a Brad Richardson wrist shot 46 seconds into the game. He kicked it aside with his left pad.
He resumed his steady play then moved up in the crease around the midway point of the first period to challenge an Oliver Ekman-Larsson shot and make an impressive blocker save.
“I think I felt better in the second and third,” Crawford said. “But they really didn’t get that many opportunities early. It was nice. I think they flipped one in for the first one, so that was kind of good just to get in it and feel one early and I mean, we were close in that one all game and we created a lot.
“I thought Raanta played really well. It was a tough, tough break at the end. Still felt I should have stopped that one. I mean, we were right there, we were creating a lot and gotta try to come up with that one. Just gotta forget about it and worry about the next game.”
Crawford was moving and making the saves the Blackhawks always depended on him to make, there was no rust.
“Surprised, happy, good for him,” Hawks head coach Joel Quenneville said of Crawford’s debut. “I thought he was in control, he handled the puck around the net well, his movement was excellent, anticipated well, on top of his crease, stopped some real dangerous looks.
“The first goal, I didn’t like how we played it. The other goals, definitely could have been better in those areas. We didn’t give up a ton of chances, but the ones they got were A-plus.”
When Lawson Crouse scored the first goal of the game at 11:43 in the first period on a 2-on-1 with Clayton Keller, Crawford didn’t have a chance to stop it as Hawks defenseman Brandon Manning failed to challenge the shooter or take away the pass.
Of the other two goals Crawford allowed, he didn’t have much of an opportunity to defend Clayton Keller’s breakaway after Chris Kunitz’s costly turnover in the Hawks zone.
Crawford did however stone Michael Grabner on a breakaway with 15:57 remaining in the third period.
“It was nice to finally get in a game and I think feel the way I did,” Crawford said. “But still, I’m definitely not happy with losing a game. We were close and we had a chance, a bad break and we still had chances after that, too. When I was on the bench, we were still creating a couple things. Seems like we weren’t getting any bounces.”
The Blackhawks played a touching video tribute on the jumbotron to salute former Hawks defenseman and three-time Stanley Cup champ Niklas Hjalmarsson in his first time back at the United Center.
Hjalmarsson was noticeably emotional during the video that solicited an early standing ovation from the fans.
“That was a tough one,” Hjalmarsson said of his special moment. “First of all my favorite song was Rise Against, a local band here from Chicago. I know the singer there Tim, so it was pretty cool that they played that song. Just seeing all those clips.
“I gave my heart and soul for this club for 10 years and played as hard as I could and I’m proud of what I accomplished along with my great teammates that I had here for a long time.
“Then when I saw my son too, it was tough to hold back the tears. It was a great moment, but also thankful they pulled me off the ice here. It would have been tough to make a shift right after the video there.”
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