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Crawford puts difficult first round in past

by Brian Hedger / Chicago Blackhawks
(Bill Smith / Chicago Blackhawks)

CHICAGO -- Corey Crawford is ready to move forward.

The Chicago Blackhawks goalie will start Game 1 of their best-of-7 series against the Minnesota Wild in the Western Conference Second Round on Friday (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports), and hitting the reset button is all he cares about.

A turbulent series against the Nashville Predators in the first round is now history to Crawford, who was pulled after one period in Game 1, lost his starting job to rookie Scott Darling for four games and relieved Darling in Game 6 to close out the series.

"I think I've answered enough questions about that," Crawford said after practice Monday. "It's done … it's done. We're moving on. Me and Scotty are both pushing each other. We want to push each other to be at our best, and we're just going to do the same thing we've done all year."

If Crawford can get back to his top form in the regular season, he'll be the Blackhawks unquestioned starter for the rest of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

He posted more than 30 wins for the fourth time in his NHL career (32-20-5), had a 2.27 goals-against average and finished with a .924 save percentage in 57 games. Crawford missed time for two separate injuries, but still led a trio of impressive Blackhawks goaltending performances that includes what Darling and Antti Raanta did.

Chicago tied the Montreal Canadiens for fewest goals allowed, which means Crawford will have his name on the William M. Jennings Trophy for the second time in three seasons.

That's why the developments in the first round were surprising.

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville had never pulled Crawford from a playoff start until he allowed three goals on 12 shots in his first 20 minutes against Nashville. Crawford started 57 straight playoff games for the Blackhawks until Darling started the third game.

Crawford faced 13 shots in his relief appearance to close out the Predators, so there are still some questions about how he'll hold up against the Wild. Neither Crawford nor Quenneville seem all too concerned.

Quenneville saw enough from Crawford in that Game 6 to convince him to start the veteran in the next round. The Blackhawks suffocated a lot of shots and scoring chances for Crawford, but it was also a 3-3 game for all of the second period and most of the third.

"Great response in a very important game for us," Quenneville said Monday, when he made it official Crawford would start against the Wild. "All of a sudden it was a tight game and the game was on the line. He did everything he could. It was a great win for him and for us. He's exiting the series on a real positive note."

After sitting for three games plus the start of a fourth, it took a little time for Crawford to re-adjust to the speed of playoff hockey. Once his timing returned, Crawford played with the confidence and poise he showed all season.

Despite the downtime between series, that confidence hasn't wavered.

"I'm just taking it day-by-day," Crawford said. "I'm just going to relax and get some rest. I'll start thinking about the [second-round] games when the schedule comes out. I feel like I can get back at it. We're going to have some tough practices here [this week], so I feel fine right now."

Quenneville is hopeful the good feeling continues. He isn't ready to say Crawford is his starter the rest of the way, regardless of what happens, but he'd like to avoid another goalie change if possible.

Darling, 26, proved he's capable of playing at a high level in the playoffs, but Crawford is still the more decorated and experienced option.

"I don't think [changing goalies] was in the forecast and I don't think that's the plan [against Minnesota]," Quenneville said. "I think you have confidence with the goalie that's going in the net. You don't think like that going into a game or a series. That's something we've never had to deal with before, but I'm fine with our goaltending situation and very confident Corey is going to get the job done."

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