Blackhawks ‘never doubted’ Corey Crawford would rebound

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Corey Crawford clears Minnesota winger Nino Niederreiter out of the crease during Game 3 on Tuesday night. (AP Photo)

MINNEAPOLIS —Corey Crawford had just made 30 saves to give the Blackhawks a 1-0 Game 3 victory and a 3-0 series lead over the Minnesota Wild when a reporter asked if his benching in the first round made it even more gratifying.

“You’re going to ask me again about it?” Crawford said in disbelief. “First round’s over.”

Fair enough. But it was only a couple of weeks ago that Crawford was the Hawks’ backup goalie, pulled from Game 1 against Nashville and benched for three-plus games after giving up six goals in Game 2. Many fans were already offering up Crawford’s $6-million salary as a salary-cap sacrifice this summer. But there was never really any doubt that if the Hawks were going to make another deep playoff run, Crawford would be involved.

And with 60 saves on 61 shots in his last two games, Crawford’s back in the top form that all but carried the Hawks over the final six weeks of the regular season. His coach and teammates never had a doubt.

“In the playoffs, things get amplified,” Patrick Sharp said. “And he gets pulled in a game and [Scott Darling] goes in there and does well — it’s easy to beat yourself up, and hear everybody on TV and in the newspaper say some bad things about you. We never doubted Crow for a second.”

It helps that Crawford’s playing the Wild, against whom he’s 11-3 with a 1.60 goals-against average and .942 save percentage in the postseason. It also helps that the Hawks’ defense has tightened up considerably since the start of the Nashville series.

“It’s ateam effort, we’re a team,” Brent Seabrook said. “We’re a tight group and we love Crow. It was a tough couple of games for him, but with that being said, we didn’t do much to help him out either.”

Asked a third time about the benching on Tuesday night, Crawford finally relented.

“I would say I wasn’t used to it, but there’s not much you can do,” he said. “You’ve just got to work hard in practice and try and feel the best you can for the next time you get in.”

That’s what Hawks coach Joel Quenneville wanted to see. And while he played the semantics game on Wednesday —“I wouldn’t call it a benching, it’s a goalie change,” he said with a laugh —Quenneville always figured he’d go back to his No. 1 guy at some point, and told him as much during the Nashville series.

“It was one of those conversations about the opportunity —we’ve got a lot of confidence in you, and we expect you to be ready and come back,” Quenneville said. “And he did what he could to prepare himself when he did come back, to be the best he could be.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus

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