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Blackhawks Mon Oct 14 2013
There are some people in the Twitter-verse, mostly fans, who still doubt the goaltending capabilities of Corey Crawford and question whether or not he has the mindset to protect a lead for another Cup run. The latest version of this debate started right after Alexander Steen of the St. Louis Blues scored the game-winning goal with 21 seconds left in regulation to beat the Blackhawks 3-2 last week.
Forget the fact that Brent Seabrook labored over to Alex Pietrangelo and missed badly, which started the three-on-one break. To some, it was Crawford's miss in the end, and now this franchise is stuck with him after paying him a king's ransom of $36 million over the next six years.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Exhibit A of why you should calm your fears and have faith in Crawford, simply because of the alternative along the bench: Nikolai Khabibulin.
Everyone loves Khabi, and how could you not? He's a familiar name in this town (he played here for four seasons, from 2005-'06 until 2008-'09, including the Blackhawks' playoff run in 2009 that fell short against the Red Wings), and he has a fun nickname: the 'Bulin Wall.
But let's face it, he was cheap for Stan Bowman to bring in as a backup at 1-year, $2 million, and is serviceable with his experience in the league. What hurts his game, as with every other time he's served as backstop, is his penchant for wandering away from the crease and getting beat on his stick side.
When the Blackhawks played host to the New York Islanders last Friday evening, Khabibulin got the call for his first start of the season. The offense provided the 40-year-old backstop an early 2-0 lead with goals from rookie Joakim Nordstrom and Jonathan Toews, all in the first period. It wasn't long before Khabibulin gave up two goals, one each from Josh Bailey and Kyle Okposo to end the first period.
Khabibulin settled from there on out, but the two goals within 49 seconds of each other brought back haunted memories of Khabibulin's past performances with the Blackhawks. There's no doubt Crawford has had his share of bad games, giving up double what Khabibulin did Friday evening, but after sitting on the bench and watching what the Russian did, compared to what Crow had to witness last season in Ray Emery, there's no doubt the 28-year-old feels he's the shoulder on which this team will lean on all season. In a weird way, it had to be confidence-building.
This year, Emery is having a tough go of things in Philadelphia with a 0-2 record and a 4.03 goals against average (GAA). Last season, Emery's name was the first thing out of everyone's mouth as soon as Crawford showed any signs of vulnerability between the pipes. Ultimately, Joel Quenneville stuck with his number-one goalie and the Blackhawks took home its fifth Cup in franchise history.
Again, Khabibulin will be serviceable for the Blackhawks whenever his number is called to spell Crawford, and there's no doubt Crawford will have his bad days in goal as most goaltenders do. But after watching Crawford's last game Saturday night against the Buffalo Sabres, a game where he stopped 28 of 29 shots in a 2-1 win, it's becoming clear he's not just hearing he's the starter from his coaching staff, he's starting to believe it too. So should you.