Rozner: Crawford vs. Lehner adds to Blackhawks drama
When the Blackhawks traded Robin Lehner, they certainly didn't think they would be playing postseason hockey.
So when they moved their goaltender to Vegas, there was obviously no concern that Lehner would face the Hawks in the playoffs.
They couldn't possibly have foreseen this scenario, a pandemic shutting down the game and then the NHL granting Chicago the gift of a play-in series with Edmonton, which the Hawks would go on to win in four games.
And yet all of these things have occurred and now it's only a matter of days before it's Lehner vs. Corey Crawford in the first round of the playoffs, the Hawks as a No. 8 seed facing the top seed in the West after Vegas -- with Lehner in net -- defeated Colorado Saturday afternoon.
More ridiculous than all of that -- and that's all pretty ridiculous -- is Crawford falling ill with COVID-19, returning for a week of practice and then playing the way he did against the Oilers.
"Obviously, it wasn't the best scenario," Crawford said after the Hawks eliminated Edmonton. "I would have liked a few more weeks of practice and seen more pucks coming into the series, but it is what it is.
"I was just trying to work hard to be ready. I felt better each game."
Game 4 was Crawford's best and he made some series-winning stops in the third period, but the Hawks' goalie also knows he has a long way to go to be in postseason form.
"It was tough luck to get (sick) just before we started camp, but I was starting to feel better at the right time and able to start practicing hard and get into that first game," Crawford said. "The guys played great, so I was able to kind of hide back there for a little bit until I started to feel comfortable.
"I still don't think I'm at the top of my game."
That much is clear.
The two-time Cup winner -- who was the Hawks' best player in both of those title runs -- is not back to where he was before play was halted in March, which is understandable.
Throughout the series he was brilliant at times, but he struggled getting back to his feet and at least a pair of goals resulted from precisely that. His rebound control was also nowhere near as sharp as it will have to be against Vegas, which is a much deeper and more talented team than Edmonton.
"There's still some work to do," Crawford said. "It seemed like there were a lot of pucks lying around in front of the net in the third period (of Game 4) when they were pressing and our guys did a great job of getting sticks on pucks or letting me cover it or clear it."
As for Crawford's next opponent, Golden Knights coach Pete DeBoer says he has not yet decided between Marc-Andre Fleury and Lehner, but the latter was terrific against the Avalanche on Saturday and has earned the Game 1 start.
It's not an easy call given the respect Fleury has earned through a brilliant career and 135 postseason starts, while Lehner is the new guy in town and has just 8 playoff starts from his time with the Islanders in 2019.
"Marc is a world-class goaltender and he's been one of the best in the league for a very long time," Lehner said Saturday. "But like I said, they traded for me here at the deadline, and I'm here whenever they need me."
Lehner was the better goaltender in Chicago and he has been the better goaltender in Las Vegas, going 5-0-0 with the Knights, including Saturday's win which was viewed in person by several Hawks who had the day off.
Still, Crawford and Fleury have rings all over their fingers, though no one is certain when Crawford can be Crawford again or if Fleury will ever again be Fleury. It's worth remembering, however, that Crawford's best hockey of the season came after Lehner was traded.
So there it is right there for you. As if this entire episode wasn't entertaining enough already, Crawford vs. Lehner is coming soon to a television near you.