-- If it weren't for Corey Crawford
, Saturday's 3-2 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings
at Joe Louis Arena might've been a lot worse for the Chicago Blackhawks
Crawford allowed two early goals in the first period, but the Hawks were badly outplayed in those 20 minutes -- outshot 21-4 -- and Crawford was forced to make a number of big stops to thwart good Detroit scoring chances.
Crawford also came up huge in the third period to keep his team down by just one goal on a breakaway by Red Wings forward Drew Miller
-- turning his attempt away and paving the way for the Hawks to force overtime (and earn a big standings point) in the final minute of regulation.
Despite allowing the eventual game-winner in overtime on Todd Bertuzzi
's snap shot off a rebound in the slot that just fluttered past him, Crawford was at his best in that game and has turned around his season after a slump that had him sitting out for six straight games in December.
After earning the starting job in his first full NHL season a year ago, Crawford is again showing why the Hawks allowed former goalie Antti Niemi
-- who backstopped them to the 2010 Stanley Cup title -- to leave via free agency prior to last season.
"He's had a great start to his career," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville
said last week. "Had a great start last year … all big games for us down the stretch. You like his consistency. You like his size. Technically, his position is strong in each and every situation and he's got some quickness to his game."
He's also got some pretty thick skin. Instead of pouting while veteran backup Ray Emery
took over the starting duties for that stint last month, Crawford just quietly worked with Hawks goaltending coach Stephane Waite on getting back into top form.
The work paid off. In nine appearances since the extended time off, Crawford has a 2.44 goals-against average and .921 save percentage -- allowing more than three goals just two times, with both of those four-goal games.
"He's a pro and wants to get better," Quenneville said. "He learns. He's got a nice relationship with Steph. The two of them work well together. Nice start to his career and we expect a lot out of him."