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Blackhawks stick with Emery for sixth straight start

by Brian Hedger
CHICAGO -- Ray Emery will get his sixth start in goal against the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday night at the United Center.

It will match Emery's previous season high of six consecutive starts from Dec. 8 through Dec. 20, but could also be a sign of which way Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville is leaning as the stretch run of the regular season winds down.

Quenneville isn't tipping his hand, however. Second-year goalie Corey Crawford, who signed a two-year contract extension in the offseason to be the Hawks' starter, hasn't played since allowing three goals on 10 shots Feb. 29 against Toronto and being pulled after just one period.

"Well, we're in the 'win today' mode," Quenneville said, when asked after Tuesday's morning skate if he'd given much thought to his long-term goaltending situation. "We're not looking too far in advance. ... Right now, Ray's playing well and that's where we're at. We've always been confident in both goalies. It's a matter of opportunity, so that's where it's at."

It's just that of late, the opportunity has been all Emery's, with Crawford still working to get his game back together in practices with goaltending coach Stephane Waite. Counting Tuesday night's game against St. Louis, Chicago has just 12 games left in the regular season, so time is ticking faster on Crawford getting another shot to redeem himself.

It wasn't just that Toronto game that led to Emery's recent rise to the starting spot. Crawford has been up and down all season, but was also pulled early in the second period of his previous start before the Toronto game, on Feb. 25 in Los Angeles. In that start, he allowed four goals against 10 shots.

Needless to say, Crawford is not pleased to be sitting out with those two starts still rattling around his head as his last frame of reference to game action. He'd like to get back in net soon, but also realizes the team is 3-1-1 in the five straight games Emery has started.

"We're winning hockey games, so I can't say anything," Crawford told last week. "I'd kind of like to say I'd like to be playing, but I've just got to be a good guy on the sidelines and, you know, if ever I get the call again I'll jump back in there. Usually you want to get right back into it. It's tough to sit on the sidelines when your last couple games were probably your worst of the year."

All he can do at this point is wait his turn and hope to get another one of those opportunities that Quenneville often cites when talking about goaltending.

"There's nothing I can do about it," Crawford said. "I just work hard in practice and build off good stuff in practice to be prepared for the next time I go in."

Emery is doing likewise, but said getting the bulk of starts lately helps built his confidence.

In the past five starts, Emery has a 2.55 goals-against average and .911 save percentage, which are only slightly better than his season totals (2.66 GAA and .906 save percentage) -- but it's his consistency that's earned him the top role to this point.

"I think if you play a bit more, you're more comfortable in net," Emery said. "Confidence goes along with that, but each night's a different night and I think you've got to stay sharp."

At home, that's been no problem for the veteran goaltender. Emery is 10-0-2 in 13 appearances at the United Center this season, with a 1.70 GAA and .934 save percentage. On the road, the numbers aren't nearly as sterling.

"I'm a part of the team and there's definitely a boost starting at home in front of your home fans, but I don't know if you can read too much into it," Emery said. "You play more and you're more confident in net. I think it's the same for anyone. It kind of becomes where you don't have to think as much and it becomes more of a reaction. It really helps to play more."

As for possibly wresting control of the starter's job for the rest of the season and into the playoffs, Emery is a lot like his coach -- taking only a narrow focus to the situation.

"Every game is a new challenge," said Emery, who made the team on a tryout contract in training camp. "Good things are going to happen if you do well with those small, short-term goals. There's no need to look ahead of St. Louis tonight."

Crawford, meanwhile, has now had plenty of time to reflect on his turbulent season.

"I'm confident that I can do the job and you know, just the consistency has been a factor this year for me," he told "It's one of the reasons I'm not playing right now. I think when things were going well for me this year, I didn't continue to do the things that got me to that point. Now that I look back, I think I maybe just got complacent or maybe a little bit too comfortable. It's a tough League. Once you let up a little bit, you know ... you see what happens."
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