A well-deserved congratulations to Corey Crawford and Ray Emery for earning the Jennings Trophy during the course of the lockout-shortened, 48-game regular season. But for both right now, thanks to what's directly in front of them, it's probably just a footnote based on the pursuit with their teammates for the the bigger prize.
I'm not certain I believe all the talk about Crawford's supposed mental "fragility." But if there's a time to prove it's inaccurate, now's not the time to be a "ScaredCrow."
I've always been a big fan of the kid, but even a couple of the soft, can't-cover-it-up rebound goals made me pause a couple of weeks ago. I thought the lessons had been learned from last spring versus Phoenix, and it was a thing of the past.
Crawford has since rebounded with very strong efforts down the stretch, and while his Jennings partner has been unavailable of late with a lower body injury, this has become Crawford's postseason that just might define his career.
We don't know when Emery will be ready to return as the Blackhawks head into Monday's practice. Whether the former Stanley Cup finalist with Ottawa six years ago will be the same guy he's been all season remains to be seen. Rust can take its toll.
That puts this playoff of great expectations even more on Crawford's shoulders. He was third in goals-against average in the regular season, sixth in saves percentage. Now, he has to prove he can put up those kinds of numbers in the post-season.
Sure, he needs help. Niklas Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya and Nick Leddy have to prove they won't back down from physical play when it arises. They need to be smart and sacrifice in front of Crawford and the best players must produce. A third straight first-round playoff exit won't fly, and I'm not sure how anything short of at least a trip to the Stanley Cup Final would sit with the folks upstairs at the United Center. Despite the record-breaking start, anything short of getting to at least June may involve a price someone has to pay.
At age 28, Crawford's in the epicenter, and at the crossroads. The bad goals have to be kept to a minimum, and encouragement over derision from his home fans after that first mistake might help too. But a 1.94 GAA and a .926 save percentage will need a similar carryover. He showed his capabilities two years ago. He showed how low things can go last spring.
With all they accomplished in the regular season, there are still things the Blackhawks have to prove: Standing up to, and overcoming, a physical, grinding, seven-game series. A few power play goals here and there could help. Finding ways to beat a hot opposing goalie. And with a little help from those around him, the coming weeks will also decide just what we have in Crawford.