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Crawford rebounds vs. Wild after first-round benching

by Brian Hedger / Chicago Blackhawks

CHICAGO -- Corey Crawford is tired of rehashing the Western Conference First Round, when the Chicago Blackhawks' top goalie was benched for four starts. But his earlier problems during the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs were a distant memory at Xcel Energy Center on Tuesday.

Crawford came full circle after a bumpy start to the playoffs and stonewalled the Minnesota Wild with a 30-save shutout. The Blackhawks' 1-0 victory in Game 3 of the Western Conference Second Round put them up 3-0 in the best-of-7 series, and Crawford has been a big reason for the commanding lead.

"It was a great game for him," said Chicago coach Joel Quenneville, who made the decisions to pull Crawford in Game 1 of the first round against the Nashville Predators and bench him in Game 3 for rookie Scott Darling. "It was a goalie win. It was one of those games from the outset that we needed him to be strong and he made some key stops, particularly in that second period and around the net in the third."

Crawford, who had started 57 consecutive postseason games prior to Darling's promotion, has played all nine periods of the first three games of this series. He's shut the Wild out in seven of them, including a difficult third period Tuesday.

Pushing for a game-tying goal, Minnesota outshot the Blackhawks 10-4 while holding the puck in the Chicago zone for long stretches. The Wild also got a power play midway through the third but failed to get a shot on net.

"They go hard to the net, and he really held his ground and he was very effective with his rebound control as well," Quenneville said. "It was a big night for him and [a big] night for us."

Crawford made several highlight-reel saves, but his biggest came during a scramble in front of the net 8:23 into the third. After a wrist shot by Minnesota center Mikael Granlund, the puck caromed off the right skate blade of Wild forward Zach Parise and started rolling toward the goal line. Crawford just saw it in time and kept it out of the net with his right hand.

"I think it was a bang-bang [play], a hard quick shot in front and [it] just bounced up in the air," Crawford said. "I kind of lost it for a [second]. As a goalie, when that happens, you back up onto your goal line. I just saw it at the last second and pushed it away."

Another huge save came 2:03 into the game, when Crawford stopped a backhand by Wild forward Matt Cooke, who quickly shook his head in disbelief. It was the kind of performance the Blackhawks were used to getting from Crawford in the regular season, especially when he led them down the final stretch run.

His early struggles against the Predators in the first round may have erased his successes from the minds of many, but Crawford didn't crumble after Quenneville made the decision to sit him for Darling. Instead, he did what he's always done during low points, which is simply to keep working to fix what's wrong.

That effort paid off in this series, but Crawford isn't interested in dwelling on the past.

"First round's over," Crawford said tersely, when asked if his latest performance was redemption. "We're happy about this win and we're going to prepare for the next win."

They'll do it knowing the goalie who's saved them many times is back in top form. Wild fans tried everything they could to rattle Crawford, chanting his name derisively several times, but it wasn't going to work this time. Crawford was too focused on the puck and too focused on the present.

How important was his performance to his teammates?

"It's huge," defenseman Duncan Keith said. "It obviously can keep our momentum, if we have it in the game, or it can give us the momentum and take some of theirs away. You have to have those saves and that kind of goaltending to win."

It was the second straight playoff appearance in which Crawford has stood out in Minnesota. He made 34 saves to lead the Blackhawks to a series-clinching 2-1 overtime victory in Game 6 in the second round last spring.

This was Crawford's fourth career playoff shutout; two have come on the road against the Wild. He has a .985 save percentage in the past two postseason games at Xcel Energy Center.

"As a goalie you never want to give up goals in a game, so it was good for myself, but as a team, too," Crawford said. "That was great for us defensively to have no goals in a game."

It was just as great for his psyche.

"I would say I wasn't used to [sitting], but there's not much you can do," he said of the first round. "You've just got to work hard in practice and try and feel the best you can for the next time you get in."

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