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Blackhawks facing fourth net change in four years down stretch

Corey Crawford’s goals-against average has ballooned from 2.30 last seas2.94. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Corey Crawford’s goals-against average has ballooned from 2.30 last season to 2.94. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: March 7, 2012 9:53AM

By this time last season, Corey Crawford already had secured the starting spot in goal over Marty Turco for the stretch run.

It’s time to find out who that goalie will be this year.

While help might arrive on the blue line via a trade, the Hawks won’t be pursuing a goalie. It will be either Crawford or veteran Ray Emery.

“I don’t want to forecast or say exactly how it’s going to play out,” coach Joel Quenneville said Sunday. “Ray has done a good job, and [Crawford], we have to get him some confidence.”

Although he won’t announce until Monday who his goalie will be Tuesday against the Colorado Avalanche, Quenneville made similar comments in December when Emery started six games in a row and Crawford worked longer practices.

“When I get in there, I want to contribute,” Emery said. “That was my mind-set going into the year, which is to be a confident player and take a few games when the No. 1 guy needs some rest.

“[Crawford] is a top goalie in this league. Our recent tough stretch is a team thing.”

That being said, the Hawks should give Emery a decent look to see if he can bring the consistency Crawford did last season, when he backstopped the team into the postseason.

This isn’t anything new for the Hawks. Two years ago, Antti Niemi usurped a less-confident Cristobal Huet in February. A season before that, it was Nikolai Khabibulin over Huet.

But unlike those seasons and even partially last year, there is more onus on the goalie this season because the Hawks haven’t shown a willingness to commit to defense for a considerable stretch and their puck-possession game has struggled. The fact that the Hawks are the only team without a shutout is an indicator of both.

“I’m having fun, but obviously there’s that pressure to perform,” Crawford said. “I’m not taking it the wrong way.”

Crawford doesn’t feel as though opponents “have figured [him] out” and are attacking him differently as opposed to his rookie season. He also doesn’t see this season as a clichéd “sophomore slump.”

“I don’t know if it’s just one big coincidence,” said Crawford, who has a 2.94 goals-against average after finishing with a 2.30 mark last season. “I wouldn’t say I’m having a slump year. I would say it’s just more inconsistent than having a slump year. I’ve played some really good hockey this year, and I’ve played some games where they haven’t been average or above average.”

The biggest concern for Crawford is that he tends to falter after allowing a goal he should have stopped, such as Taylor Hall’s goal, the Oilers’ first, on Thursday.

“I’m maybe thinking a little bit too much about some,” Crawford said. “I think that’s probably affecting me a little bit. But I’m not losing sleep over whether one goal is going to make a difference in my game.

“Every game and every day I have to be solid and give that confidence to our guys to where they know what’s behind them and they know what they’re going to get out of me every day.”

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