PHILADELPHIA — Minnesota goaltender Devan Dubnyk started his 32nd consecutive game on Tuesday night, continuing a remarkable run during which he’s carried the Wild into the playoff picture.
Corey Crawford’s been there, done that.
In early February of 2011, the Blackhawks found themselves in 11th place in the Western Conference, within striking distance of third but also perilously close to 14th. Marty Turco had given up four goals in three of his previous four starts, and the Hawks’ defense of their first Stanley Cup in 49 years was in danger of ending prematurely.
So Joel Quenneville gave the net to the rookie Crawford. For good.
Crawford started the next 34 games, backstopping the Hawks into the playoffs (going 17-8-4), and all the way to overtime of Game 7 of the first round, where they lost to the Vancouver Canucks.
“It was fun,” Crawford said. “I guess it all depends on what kind of shape you’re in, but for most guys, it’s just fun to play a lot of games. I think the little details just stay there the whole time, and you don’t have to think about them. If you’re coming in and out of the lineup, those little things don’t come as easy.”
Dubnyk has played every game since the Wild acquired him from Arizona on Jan. 14. He’s 24-6-1 with a .938 save percentage and 1.71 goals-against average, rocketing the last-place Wild into a wild-card spot, and putting himself in the Hart Trophy discussion.
No coach wants to drive his goalie into the ground. But Quenneville said it’s not a hard choice to make when the situation is dire.
“That’s the easiest decision you have to make,” he said. “That’s one of those where, hey, he’s got the net, we’re going, we have to win every game. That was kind of the mode we were in, and I’m sure that’s [Minnesota’s] mindset. As a coach, it’s a no-brainer.”
Crawford said that some of the back-to-backs could be “grueling” when he faced a lot of shots, but for the most part, he didn’t think twice about it. Quenneville never told him that he would start every game for the rest of the season, he just kept coming to him the night before every game to say he was in. And as a rookie who had spent the five previous seasons in the American Hockey League, Crawford was just enjoying the ride.
“It was my first year, I was new to the league,” he said. “It was maybe a little bit different situation [than Dubnyk, a six-year NHL veteran]. I was just more caught up in all the excitement of being in the NHL and actually getting a chance to play that many games. I was still going to rinks I hadn’t played in, and all that stuff. For me, it was just a lot of fun.”