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Corey Crawford steps up again as Hawks top Flames 3-1

Chicago Blackhawks Vs Calgary Flames 2nd-Period Chicago Blackhawks goaltender No.30 Corey Crawford makes save Calgary Flames No. 19 Blair Jones.

Chicago Blackhawks Vs Calgary Flames 2nd-Period, Chicago Blackhawks goaltender No.30 Corey Crawford makes the save on Calgary Flames No. 19 Blair Jones. Friday April 26, 2013 I Photo by Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 29, 2013 8:06AM



Curious thing, the William M. Jennings Trophy. It’s an award given to a goaltender — sometimes to multiple goaltenders — for what’s really a team accomplishment. The Jennings is awarded to any goalies who play at least 25 games for the team that allowed the fewest goals during the regular season.

Corey Crawford is in line to win it. But he knows it’s hardly an individual award.

“Our ‘D’ has been really good all year,” Crawford said after another stellar, 25-save performance in the Blackhawks’ 3-1 victory Friday night over the Calgary Flames. “We take so many plays away from the other team, blocking shots and clearing rebounds. What else can I say? They’ve just been so good this year.”

Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews both scored their 23rd goals of the season — less than four minutes apart in the first period — and Marcus Kruger added an insurance goal in the third after the Flames got a short-handed goal from Chris Butler in the second.

That offensive skill is what the Hawks are known for — only the Penguins have scored more goals. But the Hawks also have allowed a league-low 99 goals in 47 games — an average of 2.1. And while Crawford and Ray Emery get and deserve plenty of credit for that, they immediately deflect the praise out from the net. It’s defensemen clogging lanes, blocking shots and clearing the crease. It’s forwards back-checking in their zone and diving in front of shots themselves.

It’s that nebulous “team game” that coach Joel Quenneville mentions just about every other sentence.

“Exactly,” Quenneville said. “It starts with how we play in all zones, but if everybody plays the right way and the same way defensively — and that means without the puck — we’ve got a good chance of having it.”

Last season, the Hawks allowed 2.9 goals per game, second-worst in the Western Conference (Edmonton gave up exactly one more goal than the Hawks). The difference this year has been noticeable on the ice as well as the scoresheet, as offensive-minded players such as Kane work the corners in their zone; young players such as rookie Brandon Saad embrace the two-way play embodied so well by Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa; and role players such as Michael Frolik and Kruger reinventing themselves as fourth-line, penalty-killing specialists.

Of course, having all those skill guys playing keep-away with the puck doesn’t hurt, either.

“Part of how well we defend this year has been the offensive side of things, and spending a lot of time in the offensive zone,” Quenneville said. “But our goaltending has been very consistent, our defense has been improved, and our team game’s been better. That’s the noticeable variance from last year to this year, and that’s something we’ve been happy with.”

Many Hawks players hadn’t even heard of the Jennings Trophy, but they do keep track of which teams have allowed the fewest goals. And while regular-season awards mean little in the long run, the Jennings Trophy — like the Presidents’ Trophy, which the Hawks wrapped up Wednesday in Edmonton — would be a nice affirmation that all the work paid off.

“If you’re at the top of that kind of statistic, you’re obviously doing something right,” defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said.

And if Crawford does get the award — Emery hasn’t played in enough games to qualify — he’ll surely share it with his teammates. It’s a “team game,” after all.

“We’ve got to play good in front of Crow and help him out as much as we can,” defenseman Nick Leddy said. “If we have his back, we know he’ll have ours. The forwards have done such a great job of coming back. All of that is definitely a huge reason why we are where we are.”



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