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Corey is the story for Blackhawks from here on out in net

Corey Crawford

Corey Crawford

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Who should be in net for the Blackhawks heading into playoffs?





THURSDAY

BLUES AT BLACKHAWKS

The facts: 7:30, CSN, 720-AM.

Updated: April 3, 2013 10:20PM



Ray Emery wasn’t on the ice, or even on the bench, when the Philadelphia Flyers played the Blackhawks in the 2010 Stanley Cup finals. But as he recovered from hip surgery, Emery — who backstopped the Ottawa Senators to the finals in 2007 and who expected to be doing so for the Flyers, too — still was rooting hard for his Flyers to knock off the Hawks.

“These guys played against Philly in the playoffs when I got hurt that year, but I was on that team, that was still my team,” Emery said. “And I wanted that team to win just as badly as I did in Ottawa. It’s a team. You root for each other.”

Despite Emery’s experience in the playoffs, despite becoming the first goalie ever to win his first 12 decisions in a season this year, despite having done everything the Hawks have asked of him and more, Emery knows what he almost certainly will be doing when the calendar flips to May.

Rooting for Corey Crawford.

“The role that I’m in this year is a supporting role to Corey,” Emery told the Sun-Times on Wednesday. “And Corey’s the guy going into the playoffs.”

It was the first time since Emery emerged as a surprise star this season that anyone on the Hawks freely admitted that Crawford has been, is and will continue to be the Hawks’ No. 1 goaltender. His play warrants it. Crawford is 15-4-3 in 21 starts. He’s second in the league with a 1.97 goals-against average and third with a .925 save percentage.

Emery is 12-1 in 14 starts with a 2.09 GAA and .919 save percentage.

“We have so much confidence in both of those guys,” defenseman Nick Leddy said. “No matter which of them’s back there, they’re going to keep us in any game.”

But while goalie tandems are great in the regular season, they don’t fly in the playoffs. Those 2010 Flyers were an exception. Injuries kept shuffling Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton in and out of the net.

Hawks coach Joel Quenneville has said all season that he hoped one of his goaltenders would “make the decision” for him, but with less than four weeks left in the season and both goalies playing well, it appears Quenneville has made the decision himself.

Crawford will make his third consecutive start Thursday against the St. Louis Blues at the United Center.

“Going into the season and all year, he’s had a bit more of an opportunity than Ray,” Quenneville said. “But both guys deserve every single night to get consideration to be played.”

Crawford’s postseason statistics are almost identical to his career stats through his first two years, but he has yet to win a playoff series in two tries. Last year, in a six-game loss to the Phoenix Coyotes, he had a 2.58 GAA and an .893 save percentage and allowed two soft overtime goals. He entered this season determined to erase that memory with a big playoff run, and he’ll get his chance.

In this third season, Crawford said he’s more confident and less prone to mental breakdowns than he was in the past. On Monday, the Nashville Predators erased a 2-0 deficit with two goals early in the third period. The first came on a bad play by Crawford; the second was swept in after a nice initial stop on a sudden two-on-one on the doorstep.

Instead of coming undone, Crawford held the Predators at bay, then made four of five stops in the shootout to secure the victory.

“I think before, maybe earlier in my career, I would’ve just fallen apart and maybe given up another two after that [first one],” he told the team’s website. “Whatever, it happened. I’ve just got to learn from it and be more careful next time.”

It looks like there will be plenty of next times for Crawford, this month and for up to two more months after that. It’s his team, his net and his chance to entrench himself as the No. 1.



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