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Crawford having strong postseason

by Lindsay Kramer

The Rockford IceHogs' Corey Crawford hopes to make it into the Chicago Blackhawks goalie rotation next season.
Corey Crawford’s bid to crack the Chicago Blackhawks’ goalie rotation next season has been under way for a couple of months now.

At this rate, he may have a job before there’s even one officially open.

The Blackhawks need the third-year pro to be ripe and ready to leave the AHL, and he looks every bit the part. In Rockford’s first-round playoff series win against Houston, he allowed just six goals in five games.

“If we win, it’d be a huge bonus (for next season). Everyone loves to have winners around,’’ Crawford said. “I’ve been trying not to think about that stuff. Every now and then, it kind of wanders through my mind. The more I think about it, I won’t play as good.’’

Heading into a second-round series against the Wolves, the IceHogs can’t have that.

Crawford, the Blackhawks’ second-round pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, went 29-19-5 with a 2.83 goals-against average and a .907 save percentage this season. While he was a workhorse for Rockford, his most important effort came as a pinch-hitter for the Blackhawks.

He earned his first career NHL win when he shut out the Ducks on March 5. He also made 44 saves in a 3-1 loss to Detroit on March 11. Overall, he posted a 2.14 GAA in five games.
Crawford had played briefly in the NHL before, but that mini-run represented his first successful stretch.

“The management in Chicago was happy with what I did,’’ said Crawford, 23. “I kind of re-awakened them. I think me stepping in could give them a little idea of what I can do. I think I’m able to play in the NHL. That confidence just helped me out.’’

Crawford admits the quick visit had just the opposite effect upon his return to Rockford. In his first three games back with the IceHogs, he had a 3.91 GAA and a .860 save percentage. He was also up and down in April.

“I’d have a good game, then an average game,’’ he said. “I was flopping back and forth. I wish I had the answer. After the season was done, I got a bunch of good practices right away. I was able to focus on the first round.’’

Yet so much more is potentially so close. If Chicago decides it needs a new backup to Nikolai Khabibulin, there is no more logical choice than its top goalie prospect, who happens to be peaking at this very moment.

“That would be perfect to take a backup role there and easy my way into it,’’ Crawford said. “Everyone thinks about that stuff. Right now, the goal is to stay focused.’’
Phantoms' Potulny can go the distance -- The longer the clock ticked on in Philadelphia’s amazing five-overtime win against Albany in Game 5 on April 24, the more it played right into Phantoms’ center Ryan Potulny’s hands.

Potulny has a bit of experience with these marathons. Potulny skated in a four-overtime game with Lincoln of the USHL and he also played in a five-overtime game while in high school in North Dakota.

“I don’t know if these games are following me around,’’ he said.

Whatever the explanation, the experience gave him all the savvy necessary to end the contest with a score at the 2:58 mark of the fifth overtime. The stick, gloves and puck used by Potulny to score the game-winning goal are all headed to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.    

“That’s really neat. Not too many people can say their stick is in the Hockey Hall of Fame,’’ he said. “I usually switch after a game or two. And that (overtime) was two plus-games, so there it is.’’

The Phantoms quickly jumped on the promotional gold mine by giving away a commemorative clock depicting Potulny’s historic goal, which came on Philadelphia’s 101st shot of the game.

The clock has been permanently set to 12:39, the time of day of Potulny’s goal, and was autographed by Potulny.

The River Rats also had a player in that game familiar with playing hockey until the early morning. Forward Marc Cavosie was a member of the 2003 Houston Aeros team that lost to the Hamilton Bulldogs in Game 2 of the Calder Cup finals in four overtimes (134:56) in 2003.

Younger brother making good -- San Antonio rookie forward Chad Kolarik urged his brother to stay away from hockey earlier this season.

It’s a tip he has no intention of following himself.

Kolarik’s older brother, Tyler, 27, played two years pro in the ECHL and AHL before calling it quits at the start of last season. Tyler was banged up and frustrated over being forced into a checking-line role with the Syracuse Crunch.

It also helped that Tyler had a degree from Harvard and a job as an investment banker in New York City to fall back on. Still, earlier this season, when Chad was a senior star at Michigan, Tyler asked him what he thought about a return.

“He texted me earlier this year to see if he could make a comeback,’’ Chad said. “But I told him to stick to his job because he could make more money than he could in the NHL.’’
Chad? Well, that’s a different case.

If I’m lagging behind everybody, then I don’t belong anymore. I think hockey is my No. 1 priority. Hopefully, my skills will help me get to the NHL quicker. - Chad Kolarik
A seventh-round pick by Phoenix in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, Chad is a little more offensively gifted than his brother. He produced 30 goals and 26 assists his senior season and recorded a hat trick in his second game with San Antonio in Game 2 of a playoff series against Toronto. He added a goal and an assist in Game 6.

Playing on a line with his former Wolverines teammate, Hobey Baker winner Kevin Porter, eased his transition.

“We had a lot of hype coming in. That was the biggest (worry) coming in, taking the spot of someone who has been here all year,’’ Kolarik said.

Kolarik has a degree in general studies from Michigan, but, unlike his brother, plans on doing his graduate work in pro hockey for a long time.

“I don’t think I’ll be tired of hockey,’’ he said. “If I’m lagging behind everybody, then I don’t belong anymore. I think hockey is my No. 1 priority. Hopefully, my skills will help me get to the NHL quicker.’’

Around the AHL --
The Syracuse Crunch won all four of its playoff games vs. Manitoba in overtime, the first team in AHL history to accomplish that in a single series. There were five overtime games played between the Moose and Crunch overall, which tied a record. ... After the series, Syracuse owner Howard Dolgon, keeping a promise to his team, got a Mohawk haircut. The players all got that coif before the series began. ... When the Crunch lost to Manitoba 5-2 in Game 4 of its playoff series on April 25, it marked the first time since Feb. 18 that the team fell in regulation, a span of 26 games. ... Manitoba scored three goals in a stretch of 1:52 in the second period of that game, a franchise playoff record. ... Two games this playoff year have been scoreless through regulation. There had only been six such games in 71 AHL postseasons prior to this spring. ... Houston’s six goals in its playoff loss to Rockford tied an AHL record for fewest in a five-game series. In that series, the teams were a combined 0-for-39 on the power play and the only special teams offense came via two short-handed goals by Rockford. ... Philadelphia topped Albany in Game 7 of their series on April 29. Neither franchise was too well-versed in those pressure games – the Phantoms played in their first Game 7 since defeating Kentucky, 9-3, in the 1999 Western Conference semifinals. Albany’s only previous Game 7 was in 1997, a 6-2 win at Rochester in the Northern Conference semis. Both clubs broke the AHL record for fewest goals scored in a seven-game series by a single team. The old record was 13, and Albany scored a total of 12 while Philadelphia netted 11. ... Chicago opens its West Division Final against Rockford with home-ice advantage, and it’s a huge one indeed. The Wolves have posted an 18-2 all-time mark in playoff series that begin at the Allstate Arena. ... The Wolves surrendered just 11 markers during its six-game series win over Milwaukee, eight of which were given up in the third period.

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