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Corey Crawford trying to regain peak form

Blackhawks goalie enters NHL All-Star Game in slump after return from appendectomy

by Brian Hedger / Correspondent

CHICAGO -- Corey Crawford began to smile about midway through the question.

The Chicago Blackhawks goaltender was asked how easy it would be to move past a tough performance in the 2017 Honda NHL All-Star Game simply because of the 3-on-3 format.

Crawford, who will play for the Central Division team at Staples Center on Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVA Sport), started to laugh.

"We just say that to media," he said. "But really, if you get lit up for 10 or 12 [goals], dinner afterwards with the family isn't … there's still laughs, but not as many."

Crawford knows from experience, after making his All-Star debut in 2015 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus. His team, Team Toews (named for Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews), beat Team Foligno (named for Columbus Blue Jackets All-Star forward Nick Foligno) 17-12. Crawford played the second period and allowed four goals on 18 shots. His counterpart at the other end of the ice, Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, allowed seven goals on 16 shots.

"I remember in Columbus … Fleury got lit up," Crawford said. "Like, every second shot was going in on him and I felt so bad for the guy. I was like, 'Oh my god. Thank god that's not me.'"

Video: TBL@CHI: Crawford shuts down Filppula from the dot

Crawford said he hopes to avoid that fate this weekend in Los Angeles, where he'll have a group of family and friends watching in the stands. While he's looking forward to a great time with them, Crawford also hopes to regain his peak form coming out of All-Star weekend.

He had an emergency appendectomy Dec. 3 that cost him 10 games, and he hasn't been as sharp since his return. He's 6-5-1 with a 3.08 goals-against average and .903 save percentage in 12 games since returning. Prior to his surgery he was 12-6-2 with a 2.27 GAA and .927 save percentage in 20 games.

Scott Darling started ahead of Crawford in the Blackhawks' final game before the break, a 5-3 home loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday. But Crawford isn't reeling. In fact, he said he feels close to regaining his top form.

Despite allowing four goals on 35 shots against the Tampa Bay Lightning in a 5-2 loss on Tuesday, including three goals in the third period, Crawford said he felt lighter on his feet.

"If you're getting beat by weak goals constantly, stuff that you should stop, there's a problem," Crawford said. "If you're getting beat by good plays, some that are good shots but you think you could've had it, that's something where your game's just not at the top. Last game [against the Lightning], that's the best I've felt since that first game I came back. That's the quickest I've felt. I was moving fast and I was set. Things were working [until the third period], so from that standpoint things are getting better."

Video: VAN@CHI: Crawford denies multiple attempts in close

The next step is carrying it through an entire game, which Crawford did with regularity prior to surgery. Regaining that consistency is the toughest task, but he has done it multiple times. This is his seventh full NHL season, all with the Blackhawks, and he's come a long way from the inconsistencies that dotted the early part of his NHL career.

Chicago was eliminated in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2011 and 2012, each time with Crawford in goal. But those experiences forged the goalie he is now.

Crawford believes the six-game loss to the Arizona Coyotes in 2012 was particularly helpful in that regard. He used the pain of allowing three overtime goals as motivation, then helped the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup in 2013 and 2015.

"The [2012] season wasn't bad," Crawford said. "It was just inconsistent. I had games where I played really well, and then I'd just back it up with a brutal one every now and then. That's the difference. I learned from that and learned that you have to be there every game and be focused. I changed my approach, changed the way I prepared and just moved forward from there."

He'll do the same now, even if dinner with his family this weekend has a few less laughs than usual.

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