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Corey Crawford hoping to carry regular-season success into playoffs for Blackhawks

Chicago Blackhawks v Phoenix Coyotes - Game Five

Chicago Blackhawks v Phoenix Coyotes - Game Five

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Updated: June 1, 2013 6:29AM



Somewhere along the line this season, somewhere between training camp and the Jennings Trophy, Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford stopped talking about it.

He stopped talking about how the Hawks’ first-round playoff exit last season stung him to his core. He stopped talking about how the memory of those two soft overtime goals by the Phoenix Coyotes’ Mikkel Boedker in Games 3 and 4 drove him in the offseason. He stopped talking about how he wanted to shed his postseason reputation and burnish a new one.

Instead, he just let his play do the talking.

‘‘He’s had a great season,’’ winger Patrick Kane said. ‘‘I know he had a couple of tough breaks in last year’s run in the playoffs, but that’s going to happen. I’m sure he wasn’t happy with it, and he wants to prove some people wrong and probably prove to himself more than anyone that he can be the goaltender. We have all the confidence in the world with him. I’m not worried about that.’’

Hawks fans, however, appear to be more cautiously optimistic than confident as the team prepares for its first-round series against the Minnesota Wild, waiting for postseason proof from Crawford before sharing his teammates’ sentiments.

In three NHL regular seasons, Crawford has a solid 2.40 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage. And in his 13 playoff games — a seven-game loss to the Vancouver Canucks in 2011 and a six-game loss to the Coyotes in 2012 — Crawford’s numbers are nearly identical (2.41 and .912).

But goalies, like quarterbacks, are judged not only on statistics and percentages but on victories and losses. In the regular season, Crawford is a sterling 83-43-19. But in the playoffs, he’s 5-8. And he has shouldered the weight of fan angst and disappointment — unfairly, in the eyes of his teammates.

‘‘It seems like he took a lot of heat last year for the team’s performance,’’ defenseman Duncan Keith said. ‘‘But hockey’s a team game. I think our goaltending’s been great this year, no question, but I think our team defense has also helped them out. And that’s also part of last season: What can be deemed as disappointing was our team defense. And goaltenders get the brunt of that. They take a lot of the blame when it’s the team in front of them giving up chances.’’

While Crawford has had strong playoff moments, including a
36-save shutout in Game 5 against the Canucks and a 2-1 victory in Game 5 against the Coyotes — both with the Hawks facing elimination — he has given up three or more goals in eight of his 13 career playoff starts. And it’s the memory of those two Boedker goals — one on a sharp-angled shot from just behind the goal line, one on a rush in which Boedker lost the puck but saw it slip between Crawford’s pads — that lingers now. During training camp, Crawford said: ‘‘It’s kind of hard to forget about that. I’m just trying to use it to get better.’’ But he never lost confidence, pointing to his 30 victories in that sophomore season.

And he has been tremendous wire-to-wire in his third season, as big a reason as any for the Hawks’ run to the Presidents’ Trophy. He’s 19-5-5 with a 1.94 GAA and a .926 save percentage. He said his focus never has wavered, and neither has his confidence .

‘‘I felt really good all year, focused,’’ he said. ‘‘There were maybe times I didn’t feel as good as others, but most of the year it’s been pretty good, and the focus and the battle level have been there. I’m playing hard, and I don’t remember too many times where I didn’t feel that great.’’

Crawford appears to be peaking at the right time, too, finally seizing the job he never really lost — despite Ray Emery’s seasonlong excellence — with Emery sidelined by a lower-body injury the last couple of weeks. Crawford was just about the only guy who showed up in a loss to the Canucks, came off the bench after Emery left a game against the Edmonton Oilers in the first period and didn’t allow a goal, then wrapped up his season with a stellar 25-save effort against the Calgary Flames.

‘‘It’s awesome,’’ Keith said. ‘‘I thought [Calgary] was probably one of his best games all year. He made some unbelievable saves.’’

Crawford agreed he’s playing his best hockey at the right time.

‘‘I’m trying not to change anything,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m just trying to carry this momentum into the playoffs.’’

He needs to. And the Hawks need him to.

It’s hyperbolic to say Crawford’s career hangs in the balance this postseason. But he’s already 28 years old, and his postseason record is frustratingly futile. Crawford is done talking about that, though — about the goals by Boedker, about the disappointment, about how it all fueled him this season. He’s looking ahead, not back.

The time for talking about that reputation, whether it’s warranted or not, has passed. Now, Crawford knows, it’s time to do something about it.



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