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Chicago goalie learns praise can be fleeting in playoffs

Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford works on glove saves during team practice in Chicago, Illinois, June 21, 2013. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes
Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford works on glove saves during team practice in Chicago, Illinois, June 21, 2013. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes

By Steve Keating

CHICAGO (Reuters) - It has been a whirlwind few days for Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford, drawing praise for his play in the Stanley Cup Final one day and the subject of criticism the next.

Crawford was being mentioned as a candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy given to the NHL playoffs' most valuable player and even tipped as the potential starting goalie for Canada at next year's Sochi Olympics.

But his play in a 6-5 overtime win over the Boston Bruins that evened the best-of-seven Stanley Cup Final at 2-2 now has Crawford facing speculation he could be replaced by backup Ray Emery for Saturday's pivotal Game Five.

Despite getting the victory, Crawford allowed five goals on 33 shots and was shaky enough to trigger talk of the need for a change in the Chicago net, something Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville shot down.

"No, we're very comfortable with Corey," Quenneville told reporters on Friday. "Corey has been rock solid all year for us, and when he's got the ball, he's been outstanding and he's the biggest reason why we're here today.

"Corey just seems to move forward whatever the challenge is, the next shot, the next game.

"I just think we want to make sure that we play strong in front of him and don't give up as many quality chances as we had in the last game."

While outside of the Chicago locker room some are ready to push the panic button, inside the mood is calm.

Certainly the Blackhawks have a capable backup in Ray Emery, a battle-tested 30-year-old veteran who led the Ottawa Senators to the Stanley Cup Final in 2007 and posted a sparkling 17-1 record for Chicago this season.

But there is little chance Emery will been seen anywhere but at the end of the Chicago bench with players having expressed their full confidence in Crawford's ability to get the job done.

"With him you don't have to worry about his attitude, it is always the same," said Chicago forward Patrick Kane. "He's very focused and ready to play every day and every game.

"He's been great for us all playoffs, all year.

"I think for us that we can play better defensively, maybe get in some shooting lanes and block some of those shots."

Crawford's glove side, however, has become a legitimate concern as Boston shooters seem to have found a chink in the netminder's armor.

All five Boston goals during Wednesday's Game Four were to Crawford's glove side, the Canadian waving at the puck as it whizzed past his outstretched trapper.

Even Crawford admitted that Bruins snipers were locked in on his glove and expected the trend to continue but had no plans to alter his playing style.

"Obviously they shot there a lot more than blocker side," said Crawford. "But I can't start thinking about that, you get in trouble if you starting thinking they are going to shoot glove.

"As a goalie you never want to be thinking out there, you just want to read and react.

"They made some good shots, you need to get over it and be prepared.

"The last series they were talking about my blocker so both sides are bad I guess."

(Editing by Frank Pingue)

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