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Corey Crawford forcing his way into Vezina discussion

Corey Crawford makes a key stop on Dylan Larkin at the tail end of a Red Wings power play early in the third period Sunday. (AP Photo)

Corey Crawford couldn’t help but smile Sunday evening when he was asked if he ever allows himself to think about winning the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goaltender.

“I don’t know,” he said, almost bashfully. “It’d be a pretty nice honor. But we have a bunch of games to play and it’s always about the next game first.”

The Vezina has been Washington goaltender Braden Holtby’s to lose all season, but Crawford has muscled his way into the conversation with his consistently strong play since the start of December. And since a rough outdoor game in Minnesota, in which he was pulled after two periods, Crawford has given up just seven goals in his last four games. Crawford has a career-high 35 victories, and his .929 save percentage is the best among goalies with at least 35 games played.

Patrick Kane is the frontrunner to win the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player, but Crawford has been every bit as important to the Hawks this season. Getting picked for Canada’s World Cup of Hockey team this week was a sign that he’s starting to get the league-wide respect that has eluded him. Being a Vezina finalist would solidify it.

“Maybe he has been part of that talk, maybe he hasn’t,” Jonathan Toews said. “But he’s got my vote, absolutely.”

Learning process

Dale Weise only played 7:43 as Joel Quenneville leaned heavily on his top three lines when it was still a one-goal game. Weise, acquired before the trade deadline from Montreal, is still likely destined for the third line with Tomas Fleischmann and Teuvo Teravainen. But for now, he’s still feeling his way.

“He’s OK,” an underwhelmed Quenneville said. “For stretches, he looks all right.”

Showdowns loom

The Hawks hit the road this week for two huge games against St. Louis and Dallas, with whom they’re jockeying for first place in the Central Division. Crawford cautioned against looking ahead to the Stars before they deal with the Blues.

“This first one’s really important,” Crawford said. “We have to put all our focus on that one. It’s going to be a stepping stone for the playoffs.”