Chicago Blackhawks: Is Corey Crawford the Playoff Goalie Needed for a Repeat?

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Chicago Blackhawks: Is Corey Crawford the Playoff Goalie Needed for a Repeat?
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Blackhawks are trying to do something that hasn't been done in over a decade.

That is, to bring back the Stanley Cup as champions for a second year in a row. That hasn't been done by any team since the Red Wings got it done at the end of the '90s.

And, like that Red Wings team of 1997 that brought the Cup back to the "Motor City" for the first time in 41 seasons, they went on the next season with a new goalie.

Mike Vernon was the playoff MVP after riding the bench all season that year, and for his efforts was shipped to San Jose the next season. Does that ring true to some similarities?

Yes, Antti Niemi came out of nowhere last season to become the goalie who ended the drought in Chicago. But, in the end he was one of the hardest casualties to lose as a result of the salary cap's tight grip.

But the similarities to the goalie situation in Detroit go on.

Chris Osgood was 26 years old when he was the starting goalie throughout the season for the unstoppable Red Wings of '98 that repeated as champions. He would go on to a lengthy and successful career with Detroit that lasts to this day.

Corey Crawford—or Crawf'—has bid his time even more then Osgood ever did, and at 26 he has finally overcome the veterans and incumbents in net to undoubtedly be titled "starting goalie" for the Chicago Blackhawks.

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With the constant threat of being replaced by younger prospects in Rockford and abroad—and the free agent signee Marty Turco waiting in the wings—Crawford has answered the bell every time it has been rung.

The 52nd overall selection by the Blackhawks in 2003 has slowly gained the admiration and trust of Blackhawks fans who became so loyal to Niemi through last season's grinding playoff run.

Ranked 15th in wins this season, Crawford only has one less win on his belt then Niemi (who has played in seven more games then the Hawks netminder.) He is also ranked sixth amongst goalies in GAA behind the likes of: Tim Thomas, Pekka Rinne, Jonathan Quick, Roberto Luongo and Henrik Lundqvist.

That is certainly company that cannot be overlooked.

Some may say that in this regular season, Crawford has been more impressive then Niemi was at this point. Sure, Niemi did not play till the latter point of last season, but at the same time, Crawford has had some of his best injured throughout last season.

The Blackhawks of last season were rather fortunate in the health department. Besides, they had what many would consider to be a much more talented team.

The shutout of the Panthers tonight (Crawford's fourth of the season) was but another display of the ability that this young netminder has—even though goals were being scored in bunches in front of him.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

I think he can end up being just what the Blackhawks need. Facing off against some of the league's best scorers in the early rounds of the playoffs will be difficult, but Crawford has had success against them before. Kopitar, the Sedins and Zetterberg have all tested No. 50—and been shut down.

Whether it continues to carry over has yet to be seen.

And, with nine games remaining on the schedule, Crawford and the Hawks will be battle (playoff) tested with tough road games against some of the league's premiere teams. Without looking into a crystal ball, the Blackhawks' pair of games against the Wings at the end of the season could be playing for:

A) a playoff spot

B) a division title

C) home ice in first round

By the end of the next couple weeks we should know if Corey Crawford is going to be ready to take on the playoff atmosphere.

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