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Quenneville on Corey Crawford: ‘He’s doing everything right’

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was asked Saturday about his decision to lean so heavily on goalie Corey Crawford down the stretch.

His response: What decision?

Quenneville called Crawford’s number for the 23rd consecutive game Sunday against Tampa Bay, and in all likelihood he’ll make it 24 ­tonight as Crawford returns to his native Montreal.

“Preparation is the toughest part for goalies when you’re playing consecutive games,” Quenneville said. “It’s [difficult] trying to find a mental break and prepare for each game in the right fashion. .  .  . But he’s doing everything right, and that’s probably the best thing [about his approach].”

Said Crawford: “You have to get the right rest. You have to prepare yourself mentally. It’s not easy .  .  . you just try to stay focused on being prepared and having that mental part of your game ready.”

Crawford is ready. It has been a long journey to ­finally get to this point for the 26-year-old rookie.

At 18, Crawford was selected with the 52nd choice in the 2003 NHL entry draft. Though Crawford is a rookie, only Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook have longer ties with the Hawks among current players.

“He’s put a lot of time in trying to get where he is right now,” said Troy Brouwer, who played with Crawford in the minors. “He’s been in the organization a long time earning his way here, and we’re glad to see him here.”

Oddly enough, Crawford said he finally felt like he was an NHL goalie at a game in which he didn’t play — Nov. 1 against the New York Rangers.

“When we went to Madison Square Garden, I finally realized I made the NHL and I was there,” he said. “At the beginning [of the season], I was just working hard to hopefully — whenever I got a game — be ready to play.

“Gradually, I just started to play more, and it’s been a lot of fun.”

Last week, with his overtime victory in Detroit, Crawford became the first Hawks goalie to post 30 wins in a season since Jocelyn Thibault in 2001-02.

His 31 wins and 2.27 GAA are best among rookies, and his .918 save percentage is tied for second.

“He’s given us a chance every night,” Quenneville said. “He looked very poised in that shootout [victory Friday against Columbus]. The games are getting bigger as we’re going along here, and he’s doing the job for us.”

Crawford and the Hawks are 14-6-3 during his 23 consecutive starts, during which time the team has gone from 11th in the West to within four points of fourth in the conference. It now holds the final playoff spot.

And while it might be a concern to some to have a rookie goalie starting so many games in a row during a sprint to the finish for a postseason berth, Brouwer said he isn’t worried.

“I played with him in the minors,’’ Brouwer said. ‘‘He’s at his best when he gets in a rhythm. He thrives off that.”

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