Crawford's rise from AHL call-up to No. 1 goalie

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Crawford's rise from AHL call-up to No. 1 goalie

Monday, April 4, 2011Posted: 3:21 p.m. Updated: 6:05 p.m.

By Tracey Myers
CSNChicago.com
Corey Crawford had his epiphany in New York City.

It didnt matter that the Chicago Blackhawks goaltender wasnt the starting guy for that Nov. 1 game. After so much work, so many auditions with the Blackhawks in trying to secure a goalie spot, the Montreal, Quebec native had nevertheless arrived.

I was at Madison Square Garden, I had made it in the NHL and I was there, Crawford remembered. I was finally part of the team.

Hes more than that now. In one season, Crawford has gone from a guy finally getting on the roster to being the Blackhawks No. 1 goaltender, and his true NHL arrival may come Tuesday night when he makes his 24th consecutive start against his hometown Montreal Canadiens.

Crawfords work has earned the Blackhawks plenty of victories this season. Its also earning him strong consideration for the Calder Trophy for NHL rookie honors.

Hes probably the best surprise that the Hawks have had this year. This kid knows how to win, said former Blackhawks coach Denis Savard. Certainly (goaltender) is the position thats the most important in hockey and hes earned chance to get (Calder) votes, no doubt.

The numbers are strong: Crawford has 31 victories, including an eight-game winning streak in late Februaryearly March, four shutouts, a .2.27 goals-against average (seventh in the NHL) and a .919 save percentage (16th).

Hes done well in all situations and all types of games and when we need big saves, he's there for us, Troy Brouwer said. I know goalie progression is slower than other positions sometimes, but its good to see hes finally earned his way here.

Coach Joel Quenneville said Crawfords also handled the workload well.

The toughest part for goalies when youre playing consecutive games and youre basically going all the time is trying to find a mental break and prepare for each game in the right fashion. Fatigue can sometimes be the challenging part, especially in your first go-around, he said. Hes doing everything right. Hes keeping himself fresh going into games.

Fresh, yes, but Crawford may also be feeling some butterflies when he takes the ice at the Bell Centre on Tuesday. Hes the hometown boy who made good, and he told Blackhawks TV recently that returning will be exciting.

Itll be pretty special, he said. I was a huge Canadiens fan growing up and Ive been there a lot of times to watch games. I dont have the words to mention how special it is to be going back and playing a game there.

Crawford was like a lot of kids growing up in the Montreal area: he considered CanadiensAvalanche goaltending legend Patrick Roy a hockey god. He switched to goaltender after watching the Roy during his youth, although his reasons for adoring Roy had little to do with specifics of Roys game.

I think I was too young to realize that. I liked his pads, Crawford said with a laugh. And he was really good.

Obviously Crawford didnt ride the Roy-like rocket to goaltending stardom Roy won the Canadiens starting job and his first Stanley Cup at the age of 20. His path was a little longer, and he put in plenty of work along the way.

Crawfords 6-foot-2 height was an asset in taking up the net but other aspects needed work. Puck handling was one, and his former Rockford coaches said its evident that Crawford has improved on that over the years. Savard saw another issue when he watched Crawford in prospect camp not long after he was drafted.

I remember him making the first save all the time but hed struggle with the rebounds, Savard said. They were there. If theres one thing hes improved on, its in that department. He smothers the puck pretty good right now, not many rebounds.

Crawford thought he finally cracked the lineup entering the 2009-10 season. But after a tight competition between he and Antti Niemi, the Blackhawks went with the latter. An understandably frustrated Crawford headed back to Rockford.

It sucked, he said. It was a pretty crappy feeling once again to be shot down and have to go back to the minors and do that again: the rough travel, not the greatest spots to be playing hockey sometimes, the small crowds. But I just threw away all those thoughts and kept working hard and hoped for another chance.

Crawford buried his emotions once he hit the ice for Rockford. Crawford won 24 games and sported a .909 save percentage and 2.67 goals-against average for the IceHogs last season.

Blackhawks developmental goaltending coach Wade Flaherty said he and Crawford talked when he got back to Rockford last fall.

We had a pretty good discussion and he came in and really was impressive as far as his work ethic, said Flaherty, who shared the Rockford net with Crawford in the 2007-08 season. It wouldve been very easy for him to say, Hey, it didnt work out. I deserved better. But he didnt. I was proud how he responded to the situation.

Rockford coach Bill Peters concurred.

He was excellent, Peters said. He was frustrated a little bit. He was like Corey Schneider. They were both good goaltenders, both behind proven guys. He was ripe on the vine. Others hadnt seen him in pressure situations. He stole games for me here.

Crawfords done that a few times for the Blackhawks this season, too. His calm demeanor is the same in net as it is in the locker room. Crawfords been big, hes been reliable. And while hes among some impressive Calder candidates this season, Carolinas Jeff Skinner and San Joses Logan Couture among them, Crawfords earned consideration at a little personal hardware.

I think hes ahead of that group, Peters said. I really like (Skinner and Couture), but if you had to pick a most valuable position, a position you need covered, its in the net. I dont think theres any more of a valuable player than the guy in Chicago right now.

Tracey Myers is CSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow Tracey on Twitter @TramyersCSN for up-to-the-minute Hawks information.

Blackhawks switch up lines vs. Coyotes

Blackhawks switch up lines vs. Coyotes

Jonathan Toews will miss his seventh consecutive game and Scott Darling will make his third consecutive start when the Blackhawks host the Arizona Coyotes Tuesday night at the United Center.

Toews is not skating right now; he last skated briefly on Sunday morning. Coach Joel Quenneville is hopeful that Toews can get back on the ice later this week. As of now, it looks like Toews could return when the Blackhawks go on their New York trip.

The Blackhawks made some lineup changes, including moving Marcus Kruger up with Ryan Hartman and Marian Hossa. It’s an attempt to get more offense; the Blackhawks have just two goals in their previous two games.

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“We’ve had some lines the last couple of games and we haven’t generated enough,” Quenneville said. “Hopefully we get more offense and threat to score on not just the one line.”

Corey Crawford, who had an appendectomy on Saturday, has already started doing a few exercises. Quenneville said, “hopefully [Crawford] will be in his equipment next week and we’ll get a better assessment as to when” he’ll return.

Broadcast information

Time: 7:30 p.m.

TV: CSN

Live Stream: CSNChicago.com/NBC Sports App

Blackhawks lines

Artemi Panarin-Artem Anisimov-Patrick Kane

Ryan Hartman-Marcus Kruger -Marian Hossa

Tyler Motte-Dennis Rasmussen-Richard Panik

Andrew Desjardins-Vinnie Hinostroza-Jordin Tootoo

Defensive pairings

Duncan Keith-Brian Campbell

Trevor van Riemsdyk-Brent Seabrook

Gustav Forsling-Niklas Hjalmarsson

Goaltender

Scott Darling

Injuries

Jonathan Toews (upper body), Corey Crawford (appendix)

Coyotes lines (via Arizona Republic)

Tobias Rieder-Martin Hanzal-Radim Vrbata

Max Domi-Christian Dvorak-Shane Doan

Brendan Perlini-Jordan Martinook-Jamie McGinn

Lawson Crouse-Tyler Gaudet-Ryan White

Defensive pairings

Oliver Ekman-Larsson-Connor Murphy

Alex Goligoski-Michael Stone

Jakob Chychrun-Luke Schenn

Goaltender

Mike Smith

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Coyotes tonight on CSN+

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Coyotes tonight on CSN+

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Arizona Coyotes tonight on CSN+ and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. A high-scoring affair?

In three meetings last season, the Blackhawks amassed 18 goals and captured victories in all three of them by final scores of 7-5, 5-4 (OT) and 6-2. The Blackhawks could use a high-scoring game, having scored only one goal or fewer in six of their last eight games. Of course, they could also use a win to avoid losing three straight for the first time this season. The good news is, they've had their way with the Coyotes for a while now, owning a 9-1-2 against them since the start of the 2012-13 season.

2. Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin.

The dynamic duo of Kane and Panarin gave the Coyotes headaches last year, combining for four goals and eight assists in those three contests. Even before that, Kane has given them problems. The reigning Hart Trophy winner has 10 goals and 26 assists in 29 career games against the Coyotes, averaging 1.24 points per game. It could be a long night for Mike Smith.

3. Get shots on net.

The Blackhawks have been outshot in six of their last seven games, which isn't exactly a formula for success despite them having a 3-3-1 record during that span. The Coyotes are coming to town as the worst team in the league, by far, in shots allowed per game at 35.4 and gave up 60 shots on goal to Columbus over the weekend. This should be a confidence-building game for the Blackhawks.

4. Control the puck.

To get shots on goal, you have to have the puck. Luckily for the Blackhawks, they should have it a lot tonight. The Coyotes are the worst puck possession team in the league, controlling only 44.6 percent of the even-strength shot attempts while the Blackhawks rank near the middle of the pack at 50.4. There's no excuse for the Blackhawks not to be in the offensive zone more than their own.

5. Rookies gone quiet.

Ryan Hartman, Vinnie Hinostroza and Tyler Motte all stepped up in large roles during the Circus Trip, but have been quiet on the scoresheet since the Blackhawks returned to Chicago. With Corey Crawford and Jonathan Toews out, two of the Blackhawks' most important players, it's crucial to get contributions from every player to make up for those losses. The veterans have been leading the way lately, but it hasn't been enough for an offense that has dried up. Perhaps one of the young guns can provide that spark the team is looking for.

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