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updated: 4/29/2013 7:32 PM

Great expectations: Crawford, Hawks ready for playoffs

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  • While Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford put together a record of 19-5-5 in the regular season, he knows the playoffs pose a much bigger challenge.

       While Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford put together a record of 19-5-5 in the regular season, he knows the playoffs pose a much bigger challenge.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

 
 

Corey Crawford has waited a full year for redemption.

No one on the Blackhawks enters the postseason with more to prove than Crawford, who was haunted for most of the off-season by the 2 overtime goals that Mikkel Boedker scored in last year's first-round loss to Phoenix.

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They were ugly goals, and Crawford admitted Monday he used his poor playoff performance to serve as motivation for a regular season in which he went 19-5-5 with a 1.94 goals-against average, .926 save percentage and shared the Jennings Trophy with teammate Ray Emery.

"When we started the season we had a lot of questions about our goaltending," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said.

Now Crawford is hoping to carry that strong play into the playoffs starting Tuesday night at the United Center with Game 1 against Minnesota.

"It was definitely disappointing," Crawford said of last spring's team performance. "We thought we could have gone further, but there's nothing we can do about that now. We just learn from it and take whatever we can from last year and carry it into this year.

"It's motivation enough just to want to win and go all the way. There are some things I can take from last year and learn from that to make me better this year."

Playoff hockey is different for goaltenders since every goal is magnified, but Crawford isn't going there.

"I'm not going to start thinking like that," Crawford said. "If I get into that I'll start putting pressure on myself and maybe hold my stick a little tighter. You might get yourself in trouble if you start thinking like that.

"I'm just going to stick with what I've done all year long. Obviously the pace and intensity builds up a little bit. I have to try and keep my cool no matter what happens, keep focused and keep a level head, because you don't want to get off track. Things happen quickly."

Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith have seen a more mature Crawford than the guy who lost to Phoenix last spring.

"He had a great season last year and then a couple tough breaks in the playoffs that people kind of called him out for," Kane said. "It's the way it is. You've got to be, I guess, held accountable for things like that, but he's had a great season once again and we're very confident with him in the net. I'm sure he'll want to prove himself in the playoffs."

"You can just tell that he obviously is more mature and has learned a lot," Keith said. "He's always been a mature guy, I think. He definitely paid his dues down in the minors and worked his way up. You never heard him once complain. That's what makes the guys want to work hard in front of him."

The Hawks want to prove they are better than the club Phoenix beat in six games.

"After the Vancouver series two years ago we were frustrated with the way things ended," Keith said. "Now two years removed, I don't think we could be any hungrier to have success. We just need to show that in our game."

Unlike a year ago, the Hawks have a healthy Jonathan Toews ready to go in the series. Toews was coming off a concussion before the Phoenix series and had missed the last 22 games of the season.

"Last year was very, very difficult coming off being out for almost two months and not playing any games and going right into the playoffs," Toews said. "This year it's a little bit different, but there still will be some challenges. That's what playoff hockey is all about. When there are challenges, you've got to find a way to overcome them."

Quenneville is ready for his team to live up to the lofty expectations people have placed on it.

"Everybody's got something to prove," Quenneville said. "When you look at the season we had and the success we had, the expectations are in place -- whether they're expectations from our fans, from our organization, from one another, I think that's a healthy situation.

"We should be going into these playoffs knowing anything can happen. We're very respectful of our opponent. You look at their lineup and it's a dangerous team, but I'm going to be concentrating on what we have to do. We should all be motivated to continue on what we accomplished this season."

• Follow Tim's hockey reports on Twitter @TimSassone and check out his Between the Circles blog at dailyherald.com.

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