Blackhawks' Hopes Could Rest On Backup Goalies

Starting goalie Corey Crawford remains "unfit to play" at this time.

Chris Emma
July 17, 2020 - 3:46 pm
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CHICAGO (670 The Score) -- At the end of another spirited practice Friday morning, the Blackhawks had one last drill to run. Their skaters lined up along the boards, and goaltenders Malcolm Subban and Collin Delia moved into opposite nets.

Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton called out the name of a skater, who would then rush the puck up the ice for a shootout opportunity against the team's two reserve goalies. Over and over again, Subban and Delia denied pucks -- on Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Dylan Strome, Kirby Dach and more.

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With each save made, the Blackhawks' skaters worked a lap back and forth across the ice and confidence grew in Subban and Delia.

"Both of them are ready to go if they need to," Blackhawks defenseman Adam Boqvist said.

With the start of their qualifying round series against the Oilers looming on Aug. 1, the Blackhawks are uncertain who will be their goaltender. There's "no change" in starting goalie Corey Crawford's status, Colliton said Friday. Crawford is currently "unfit to play," as Colliton previously explained. He hasn't offered details, citing the NHL's collectively bargained privacy rules.

"But we certainly haven't ruled him out going forward," Colliton said.

Until Crawford's status becomes clear, the 12th-seeded Blackhawks are left with Subban, Delia and Kevin Lankinen as their options in net -- and as a key part of their hopes to upset the fifth-seeded Oilers.

Subban, 26, would likely serve as the Blackhawks' starting goaltender should Crawford remain unfit to play. A first-round pick of the Bruins in 2012, Subban was acquired by the Blackhawks in February as part of the deal that sent goalie Robin Lehner to the Golden Knights. 

That trade of Lehner -- who started 31 games for the Blackhawks earlier this season -- seemed to signal Chicago's understanding it wasn't going to be a playoff team this season. Then came the unique circumstance with 24 teams included in the NHL's return-to-play format. Suddenly, Subban could be put into a pressure situation after playing just one game in a Blackhawks uniform.

The 26-year-old Delia and and the 25-year-old Lankinen are intriguing prospects and in consideration, Colliton said. But Delia has played in just 18 career NHL games, and Lankinen has never played in the league. Subban has the most experience of any of the healthy Blackhawks goalies -- with just 66 career games.

Without the two-time Stanley Cup champion Crawford, the Blackhawks would be left with no postseason experience in net.

"Obviously, we'd love to have Crow here and we'd love to have him back," Kane said. "He's been an amazing goaltender for the longest time here. If he's not able to go, then I think we have confidence that one of those guys will step up."

The Blackhawks were thrilled to "sneak in" to the NHL's restart, Toews said, sharing the sentiments of many teammates. After missing the playoffs in 2018 and 2019, the Blackhawks are eager for the chance to play for the Stanley Cup once again. But their visit to the hub city of Edmonton could be brief if they don't get strong play in net.

Oilers star Connor McDavid is considered one of the best players in the NHL -- and he isn't even the leading scorer on his team. That would be Leon Draisaitl, the league's leader in points during the regular season.

Getting Crawford back would offer the Blackhawks a chance to make a run. In the meantime, they're preparing Subban and Delia to play and hoping for the best.

"It is a challenge," Colliton said. "I'm sure it adds some excitement for them. There's opportunity there. It's a great chance for us to see how they perform. We'll see.

"It's early. It's a small sample size. We're going to let it play out here over the next couple weeks."

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Blackhawks defenseman Connor Murphy and defenseman Olli Maatta were "unfit to participate" in practice Friday, Colliton said. Defenseman Calvin de Haan remains away from the team because of a family emergency. Forward Dylan Sikura, who played in nine games this season, joined the team's main squad in practice.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.