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Crawford making fans believe; Blackhawks advance to next round

Updated: May 10, 2013 12:19AM



Corey Crawford did just about everything during the regular season. He made big stops, he won big games, he posted eye-popping numbers, he led the Blackhawks to a record-setting start and the Presidents’ Trophy.

But Thursday night, in the Hawks’ impressive, impassioned, emphatic 5-1 series-clinching victory over the Minnesota Wild, he did something new: He won over the legions of skeptical Hawks fans.

And even in the heat of battle, he noticed the “Cor-ey! Cor-ey!” chant raining down on him — remarkably, for the first time all season.

“Twenty-two thousand people chanting that? Maybe caught a couple seconds of it,” Crawford said with a wry smile. “It felt good to have our crowd behind me, obviously. They’ve been great throughout the year, and just to hear that, obviously it was nice. It was fun.”

It was a sweet moment for Crawford, the much-maligned — unfairly, in the eyes of his teammates — goalie whose postseason struggles, particularly last year in a first-round loss to the Phoenix Coyotes, made him a constant target for skeptical fans. Couldn’t do it in the playoffs, they said. Wilted under pressure, they said. The clear question mark on a talented team, they said.

Well, in five games against the Wild, Crawford allowed seven goals, and posted a .952 save percentage.

Any questions?

The fact that many of the fans chanting his name on Thursday were the ones booing him last spring wasn’t lost on Crawford. Nor did it bother him. Unflappability is all part of being a goalie.

“That’s professional sports,” he said. “The fans want to see you at your best, and they definitely hold us accountable at times here. We love our fans, they’re great to us and they expect the best out of us and I think that’s a good thing.”

Marian Hossa, who had two goals and an assist, heard the chants, too.

“That made me feel good,” he said. “Not just for him, but also for us.”

Of course, redemption doesn’t come with expected wins over overmatched teams with two injured goaltenders. The chants were earned and overdue but don’t completely erase what Crawford went through last spring. Having “Chelsea Dagger” on repeat doesn’t make two straight first-round playoff exits disappear. Scoring two goals doesn’t diminish the horrifying concussion Hossa suffered last April.

Hockey’s not an eye-for-an-eye sport, and hockey players and fans alike have long memories. Bad doesn’t get washed away with good, only with great.

So the locker stalls in the dressing room weren’t covered in plastic for a champagne celebration following Thursday night’s win, which wrapped up the series and sent the Hawks to the Western Conference semifinals (against either the Red Wings or the Sharks) for the first time since their Stanley Cup run in 2010.

It was win No. 4. Redemption — true redemption, for a team whose expectations started high and have only risen since — comes with win No. 16.

“The expectations are definitely up there,” captain Jonathan Toews said in a postgame locker room that looked like a mid-January one than a mid-May one. “But we can be excited about this, we can use this as confidence. Just to sit here and treat it as another win doesn’t quite do it justice.”

What this series win did was answer some of the nagging questions that have plagued the Hawks — in the long term (Crawford) and the short term.

The top-line struggles? Hossa, Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad combined for two goals and four assists. The power play struggles? Patrick Sharp’s fifth goal in five games came on a two-man advantage in the third period. The killer instinct that was missing in Game 3? The Hawks chased ailing backup goalie Josh Harding — hurt in Game 4 and clearly not at full strength in Game 5 despite an admirable effort — after three goals and weren’t much kinder to third-stringer Darcy Kuemper, putting two past him.

For the Hawks, Game 5 was domination. For the Wild, it was annihilation. But don’t call it redemption for the Hawks’ past two spring failures. Not yet.

“We knew we needed to get through the first round because we haven’t done it in the last couple of years,” Hossa said. “We felt like we had a great year and felt pretty confident coming to the first round. It’s just going to get tougher and tougher, but we’ve got the ability to fight through it.”

Or as Crawford put it: “This is definitely a good start.”



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