Suddenly, this feels like a big start for Crawford's season

Corey Crawford will start in goalfor the Blackhawks against Nashville on Tuesday.

The key, though, is whether he finishes.

Because this appears to be a huge start for Crawford.

The Hawks would dismiss the idea they have a goalie crisis. The Hawks probably wouldn’t say they have a goalie controversy. But the Hawks can’t deny they have more goalie questions than answers a month away from the trade deadline.

Hawks general manager Stan Bowman already has top-four defenseman and No. 2 center on his shopping list. He simply cannot afford to add another big-ticket item, and besides, Bowman already signed Crawford to a big ticket.

But Crawford has been ordinary too often and hardly playoff-worthy of late. That’s what matters: Showing everybody he can be counted on in the playoffs.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. For now, Crawford has to show he can be counted on to finish tonight’s game at home against a charging divisional opponent. This feels as close to a must-win as you’ll get in January.

Crawford didn’t complete his last start in Nashville on Saturday. He gave up a horrible-looking goal from center ice and endured the skate of shame against the Predators, who, look at that, are just a regulation win away from catching the Hawks for fifth place in a Western Conference they led just a couple days ago.

Yep, it can happen quicker than you can say, “What’s Ray Emery’s record?’’

Crawford started well this season, then slumped. As he sat for almost three weeks in December, Emery won six games in seven starts. He looked as if he was pulling the backup goalie trick that the Hawks have mastered each of the last three years. If nothing else, Emery gave the Hawks some hope if Crawford continued his lousy play.

Crawford got back in the net before Christmas and looked like a different goalie --- the one who carried the Hawks last season and one of the biggest reasons they got to overtime of Game 7 against Vancouver. He was playing aggressively, coming out to the top of his crease, playing big and coming up big.

But since New Year’s Day, pfffft.

Going back to Jan. 2, Crawford has made eight starts and allowed four goals in almost half of them. He held opponents to just two goals in only two of them, but those opponents were the miserable Blue Jackets and equally miserable Sabres.

The raw numbers drop Crawford behind his backup. Emery has fewer wins, but a better winning percentage (11-3-2 compared to Crawford’s 18-11-4). Emery also has a better goals-against average (2.57 compared to 2.88) and better save percentage (.907 vs. .902).

Emery also owns a more impressive playoff history, having backstopped Ottawa to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2007.

Crawford said he’s about wins, not stats. Fine. But he’s not winning. He has won only three of eight games this month. That’s an issue because the Hawks need wins if they are going to achieve their announced goal of winning the Stanley Cup.

Heck, they needs wins just to get into the playoffs in the asphyxiating West.

If Crawford isn’t going to get those wins, even with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp out --- especially with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp out --- then the Hawks will find someone who will. They always do. Just ask Crawford, who went from supplanting the disappointing and unreliable Marty Turco last year to perhaps turning into him this season.

 
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2013 YEAR IN REVIEW
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