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MORRISSEY: Crawford or Emery in net — why must Blackhawks choose?

Hawks goalie Corey Crawford give Preds 1-0 first period lead as Chicago Blackhawks host Nashville Predators Sunday March 25 2012

Hawks goalie Corey Crawford to give the Preds a 1-0 first period lead as the Chicago Blackhawks host the Nashville Predators Sunday March 25, 2012 at the United Center in Chicago. | TOM CRUZE~Sun-Times

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Updated: April 1, 2013 12:02PM



The Blackhawks do not have a goalie controversy. They have a goalie consortium.

They have Corey Crawford and Ray Emery. Or, if you prefer, they have Ray Emery and Corey Crawford. If there were an NHL luxury tax based on goalie performance, the Hawks would be a lot poorer these days.

This being tradition-bound hockey, though, the question is what the Hawks are going to do about such an embarrassment of riches. I mean, they eventually will have to make a decision on a goalie, right? It’s a silly question — and not just because the team is 16-0-3 with both goalies playing extremely well. All things being equal, if one of anything is good, two of the same shouldn’t be worse.

That’s true except in the NHL playoffs, where a ‘‘hot’’ goalie is considered just about the most important thing in life — above world peace and just below sufficient national oil reserves.

It’s hard to see how the Hawks’ goalie situation could go bad, though the Crawford doubters are certainly out there waiting for it. At the very least, it’s hard to see how it could get ugly between the two men. They like and respect each other.

For the sake of discussion, let’s say Crawford and Emery carry on the rest of the season the way they’ve carried on so far, which is to say spectacularly. Crawford is second in the league in goals-against average (1.50) and save percentage (.941). Emery is 8-0, with four of the victories coming while Crawford was injured recently. Why should you have to pick between them?

Conventional hockey wisdom says you can’t have a goalie rotation in the postseason because a goalie needs to find a rhythm, something alternating starts doesn’t always allow. But if rust is such an issue, how did Emery step in so smoothly when called upon this month? Shouldn’t he have been out of rhythm when he took over for Crawford on Feb. 15? And how did Crawford get a shutout Sunday after being out 11 days?

I’d like to see the Hawks send conventional wisdom on its way.

Coach Joel Quenneville wasn’t biting after practice Wednesday, reiterating what he has been saying for the last two weeks: It’s a good problem to have.

‘‘These guys are making it very easy on us to make a decision on who’s playing net,’’ he said. ‘‘When I say ‘easy,’ I mean no matter who you’re going to put in there, it’s the right decision.’’

What about the playoffs?

‘‘I’m not worrying about the playoffs now,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s a long way away, and we don’t have to make any decisions before we get there. And a lot of times, those decisions are made by how things are going.’’

I’m not an expert in Q-speak, but my read into that statement is there likely will be one prominent goalie come playoff time. Maybe that’s even Quenneville’s deepest hope.

I know coaches are extremely reluctant to have goalies share the burden in the playoffs. The last team to have two goalies with at least four victories each on the way to a Stanley Cup title was the 1990-91 Penguins, with Tom Barrasso and Frank Pietrangelo. And that happened not because of a coach’s decision but because of injury.

‘‘There’s nothing that’s impossible,’’ Crawford said of a goalie rotation in the playoffs. ‘‘It’s been good so far. We’ve been able to rotate and get some rest and just feed off each other. You never know.’’

‘‘I know that Crow’s the guy, and when I get in there, I want to do my best,’’ Emery said. ‘‘But as far as playoffs go, you want to win. Like I’ve said, that’s the situation: He’s the guy. If I get in there, I’m going to try to win as well. It’s pretty simple.’’

The coach-goalie dynamic always has been a mystery to me. A goalie gets pulled at the first hint of two bad goals, but a center can whiff on two easy goals and we’re told ‘‘the puck isn’t bouncing his way.’’ The football equivalent would be a coach pulling a quarterback after two interceptions.

Quenneville chose not to pull Crawford after he gave up three early goals Feb. 5 to the Sharks, and now Coach Q is considered Zen Master II for showing such faith. But isn’t the bigger risk in the other direction? That if you replace a goalie, you might hurt his confidence?

That makes sense. Maybe too much sense.



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