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updated: 5/3/2014 10:27 PM

Blackhawks' Crawford never good enough for critics

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  • Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford makes a second-period save Friday night in Game 1 against the Wild.

       Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford makes a second-period save Friday night in Game 1 against the Wild.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

 
 

On the one hand, you have Corey Crawford.

He was the best player on the best team in the NHL a year ago, a team that won the Stanley Cup and is going for the first NHL repeat since 1998.

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Regardless of how good Crawford is -- and make no mistake, he won the game for the Blackhawks on Friday night -- there are always some who believe the Hawks would be better off with another goalie.

They fail to mention who that goalie would be.

On the other hand, you have the Minnesota Wild.

Their starting goalie right now is Ilya Bryzgalov, who was rather mediocre Friday against the Hawks when Minnesota had every right to think it should have won Game 1. In his last five starts, Bryzgalov is 1-4 with a 4.96 goals-against average and an .819 save percentage.

That is shockingly bad.

Conversely, Crawford is third among playoff goaltenders with a 1.98 goals-against and a .935 save percentage.

Acquired March 4, Bryzgalov has been the No. 1 goalie since the final few minutes of Game 7 against Colorado, when Darcy Kuemper went out with concussion issues again. Kuemper started the Wild's final five games of the first round, after replacing Bryzgalov midway through Game 2.

Minnesota has dressed seven different goalies this season, played a total of five and have designated -- at various times -- four goalies as the No. 1 starter. The job of backing up Bryzgalov on Friday belonged to 30-year-old John Curry, a veteran of six NHL games, zero in the postseason.

Josh Harding is skating again, but there's no word from the Wild on when or if Harding could be ready for game action. Harding, who battles multiple sclerosis, was a serious Vezina Candidate early in the season before again being derailed by his condition.

Last spring against the Hawks, Wild No. 1 goalie Niklas Backstrom was scratched before Game 1 because of a leg injury suffered while reaching for a puck in pregame warm-ups. Harding replaced him and did a fine job in Game 1.

The Hawks pounded him in Game 2, but Harding was solid again in a Game 3 overtime win.

Harding was hurt during Game 4, forcing rookie Kuemper into the game, and Patrick Sharp scored on the Hawks' first shot 62 seconds later.

In Game 5 warm-ups, Harding could barely stand up. He started anyway, was pulled early in the second period, and Kuemper finished the series as the Hawks finished off the Wild.

Now, Kuemper would be the guy, but he hit his head on Ryan Suter's knee in Game 7 against the Avalanche, and the Wild will try to survive with the goofy Bryzgalov, who's capable of standing on his head one moment and being just as bad the next.

So you have a Wild team that has narrowed the gap on the Hawks since a year ago and played a terrific series against Colorado, but they still have serious goaltending issues, and over the course of seven games that's really tough to overcome.

Minnesota was far the better team Friday, but Crawford was the difference, keeping the Hawks in the game during those middle 40 minutes when they played like the Hawks often do when they're not pressed to be better.

"They just outworked us," Johnny Oduya said Saturday. "That's just the bottom line. Hockey's very simple like that sometimes.

"But we talked about it today. The passion and fire has got to be there, and the urgency. I think they had a little bit more of that. We sat back too much. We can't do that."

The Hawks are well aware they were fortunate to come out with a Game 1 victory and vowed Saturday to be better in Game 2.

"We weren't happy with the way we played," said Jonathan Toews. "We made a lot of mistakes that were unnecessary. I think it just comes down to making sure that we've got that work ethic and that we've got that energy and that high pace we always talk about. Other things will fall into place."

Ultimately, the Hawks have too much skill for most NHL teams, and when they flip the switch it's a sight to behold. When they sleepwalk, it's frustrating for fans and players alike.

Not to mention coaches.

"We have to be better than we were last night, all areas across the board," said Joel Quenneville. "Technically, we have to be better. Our pace has to be quicker. They are fast. There isn't a lot of time and space out there.

"So we have to react better, be more alert across the board."

But while the Hawks are sleeping through various phases of a game, it's usually Crawford who saves them from themselves. He did Friday and he will many more times as the Hawks look for another deep playoff run.

And still that won't be enough for some.

brozner@dailyherald.com

• Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM.

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