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Wednesday, June 12

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Blackhawks Mon Apr 08 2013

With Playoffs Approaching, Emery Deserves Start in Net

Thumbnail image for GB blackhawks icon.png A lot can happen during the course of the NHL playoffs. For my money it's the most exciting event in any sport, mostly because the intensity level is dialed up a notch and there aren't any shootouts.

But increased defense during a seven-game series is where the drama is born and makes me a nervous wreck every year the Hawks make a play towards June. With that comes stellar goaltending, which can ride a team to the ultimate prize: Lord Stanley's Cup.

Anyone who has paid attention, including Stephen A. Smith, knows the Hawks have been a team on a mission after starting the season with a record-setting 24-game point streak. During the streak, Hawks goalies Corey Crawford and Ray Emery played lights out and, at times, flat out brilliant.

At the beginning of the lockout-shortened season, Joel Quenneville named Crawford his starting goalie, while Emery would serve as backup. And while Crawford's abilities to, uh, keep the opposing team's puck out of the net late last season, he was given the green light to be the team's main netminder for this season.

Crow got the Hawks on the right foot during game one with a 5-2 win over the Kings. The next night, Emery got the nod and a 6-4 win over the Coyotes. From there, Crawford would get the bulk of the starts, while Emery would start on the backend end of back-to-back games.

Recently, Crawford has struggled between the pipes, giving up leads in the dreaded third period against the Predators on April 1 (shootout win), and St. Louis Blues April 4 (shootout loss). Granted, it's hard to complain about anything with this team, especially with how well it's played on offense, but losing leads during the final 20 minutes of the game is a bad habit to repeat, especially this late in the season.

Sure, the forechecking D could step up a little, but some of Crawford's goals were gentle kisses that squeaked by while being out of place. Meanwhile, Emery has been solid in his side-step motions, and seems to have the upper hand on blocking shots that head top-shelf. Oh yeah, and he doesn't mind jawing at the opposition.

I think my fear is that too much trust will be put into Crawford, simply because he's "earned" the right to play in goal. And there's no denying that he does, in some ways, deserve that shot. But at the same time, relying on a player to carry you through simply because he's owed the shot can get you burned, as we've recently seen with the north siders.

We're looking at 10 games left in the regular season, which is plenty of time for Crawford to figure out his current case of the "I can't stop the puck from hitting the back of the net" blues. But if there's even a shadow of doubt rolling into Game 1 of the opening series, then Emery would be the smart play. This team has come too far, and us as fans along with it, to fall short of reaching the finals.

The hot hand should always trump loyalty. Quenneville did it in 2010 with Antti Niemi over Huet, and should do the same by the time April comes to a close.

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