Good news: Corey Crawford is back on the ice after missing the first 12 days of training camp because he was ruled "unfit" to participate. He confirmed on Saturday he had tested positive for COVID-19, which was the reason for his absence.
Bad news: Saturday was the final day of training camp in Chicago, and there are only seven days between now and the Blackhawks' five-game play-in series against the Edmonton Oilers.
The Blackhawks leave for their hub city of Edmonton on Sunday and Crawford will be part of the trip. He was included on the 31-man roster the team submitted to the league on Friday, which made it official.
The question now is, can he get up to speed in time to be the starter for Game 1?
Some goaltenders need extra time before training camp to get their conditioning and puck tracking at the right level before the start of the regular season. Crawford isn't one of them, but that doesn't mean he's not behind the eight-ball.
"Obviously there's not much time, but I've never really been someone that skates a ton in the summer anyway," Crawford said. "But I feel like it takes a few practices just to get your legs under you, it doesn't really matter what you do in the gym. Today felt decent for the first time on the ice. I'm just going to try and build off of that."
On his first day of practice, Crawford worked with goaltending coach Jimmy Waite for 20 minutes before taking shots from his teammates for the first time in camp. The focus was on cardio, endurance and just feeling the crease again. He even participated in the first period of the team scrimmage, where he gave up three goals, but the rust was to be expected.
"It was a good session with Jimmy," Crawford said. "After a few practices, that will be a lot better."
Even though he doesn't skate much during the offseason, Crawford still missed valuable preparation time ahead of the NHL's Return to Play plan. This isn't a normal training camp with multiple preseason games to get acclimated for an 82-game season. The Blackhawks have only one exhibition contest against the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues on Wednesday and that's it before heading into the qualifying round.
Head coach Jeremy Colliton will use that time to evaluate the goaltenders before naming his starter next Saturday.
"It's great to have him out there," Colliton said of Crawford. "We'll get him ready as soon as we can. ... We don't have a lot of time, so we do have some urgency, but he knows that, and he's been through it before as far as trying to come back from an injury and get right in, so we'll keep going on that process. The challenge is, every day, to do what we can to prepare him to be ready. We don't need to make that decision right now."
The Blackhawks are scheduled to have an off day on Monday and Thursday, but ice will be available to them every day at the practice facilities in Edmonton for players who want to skate. Crawford, you figure, will take advantage of that extra practice.
At this point, it's difficult to see a scenario where Crawford isn't the Game 1 starter. Whether he feels at the top of his game or not, the Blackhawks have the best chance of advancing with No. 50 between the pipes because of his championship pedigree and the psychological boost it would give his teammates.
"He's always risen to the occasion," Jonathan Toews said. "When he's gotten in tight spots or when he's been hurt, he comes back and plays great. I laugh, because the amount of preparation that a guy like me needs to go play at my best as opposed to a guy like Crow who can just pop in there, it's almost the expectation for him and at the same time, it's not really fair."
The Blackhawks need Crawford to be the best version of himself to have a shot at making a deep run in the postseason as the No. 12 seed, and he was prior to the March 12 pause. He strung together 10 consecutive starts and went 6-4-0 with a 2.41 goals-against average and .930 save percentage over that span, which validated Crawford plays better when he gets into a consistent rhythm.
Whether he can find that rhythm by Game 1 remains to be seen, but don't count Crawford out.
"Corey is an all-world goaltender," Duncan Keith said. "If there's one guy who could step in, it would be him, especially being the goaltending position. Hopefully he comes back and stands on his head."
Will Blackhawks' Corey Crawford be ready for Game 1 of Stanley Cup Qualifiers? originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago