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Article posted: 6/12/2013 5:30 AM

Doubters be gone: Crawford answers his critics

By Tim Sassone

Can we please put the Blackhawks' so-called goalie controversy to rest?

What else does Corey Crawford have to do to be considered the No. 1 guy?

The Hawks are in the Stanley Cup Finals against Boston, and Crawford has put them there. He'll likely win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP if the Hawks win the Cup.

As recently as the first round against Minnesota there were some fans and uninformed media people wondering why Ray Emery wasn't getting a chance to play after going 17-1 during the regular season.

Forgotten was the fact Crawford was 19-5-5 with a 1.94 goals-against average and .926 save percentage. Crawford has won 12 more games in the playoffs.

Hawks general manager Stan Bowman has always been a Crawford supporter and is having that trust rewarded.

"Corey has been fantastic all season long and I think we talked about it at the start of the year," Bowman said. "A lot of people had questions about Corey, but he's really been progressing every year. He's a guy we've had in our organization since we drafted him. We've taken our time allowing him to improve year after year. He finally made it to the NHL and established himself as a No. 1 goaltender."

This is the third season for Crawford as the Hawks' No. 1 goalie, but there have been ups and downs along the way.

"It's a process for goalies, I think," Bowman said. "We've always had confidence in his ability and it's just nice to see now him getting the recognition that he deserves.

"The consistent play we've had game in and game out, it's been that way since the beginning of the year. You get a great performance from him every night. When your goaltender plays well like he has then it allows you to just play your game and not worry about goaltending."

Crawford has outplayed two great goalies to get here in Detroit's Jimmy Howard and the Kings' Jonathan Quick.

Now he goes up against Boston's Tuukka Rask, who has the best save percentage in the playoffs and who almost single-handedly ousted top-seeded Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference finals.

"Seems like we ask that question at the start of every series," Hawks winger Patrick Sharp said. "The goalies are so important this time of year, whether it's the individual guy in the net making the saves or how well teams are playing defensively.

"You look at Boston, they don't give up a whole lot. Doing what they did to the Penguins is impressive. Rask is a big part of that."

Crawford doesn't look at it as going head-to-head with Rask.

"Really, to me it doesn't matter to compare us because I'm not shooting on him and he's not shooting on me," Crawford said.

"He's good goaltender, but I'm thinking of what I have to do and their shooters, their players and their tendencies. They play a hard game and put pucks to the net hard, but if you give them enough room they can make plays, make those back door plays, too. I definitely have respect for what he does, but it's more about getting ready for their players."

Bruins coach Claude Julien prefers not to talk about the other team's goalie.

"Again, I don't think I'm going to start dissecting the opposing goaltender," Julien said. "He's played well in these playoffs. He's a big body. He's had a great year. We recognize that."

Crawford has learned a lot since last spring when he allowed those 2 soft goals in overtime in Games 3 and 4 in the first round against Phoenix. He worked hard in the off-season to become more flexible as a goalie.

"I can't think of a specific exercise I did, but anything to work on flexibility," Crawford said. "Compared to last year, I feel a lot more flexible. There were chances this year where I was able to get myself in a position to make a save or at least get something there to have a chance to make a save. It was something that helped me that I added to my game this year.

"Some of the goals I gave up last year, I wasn't very happy with. I learned there's always the next shot and to try and stop that one."

This could be a series decided by either Rask or Crawford.

"He's a talented guy, a big goaltender," Jonathan Toews said of Rask. "We faced some pretty tough goaltenders in the last few series. Nothing changes. We have to make pucks tough to see for him, go for rebounds, second, third chances, all that sort of thing."

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

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