Corey Crawford: From in crease to decrease

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Chicago Blackhawks Vs Toronto Maple Leafs 1St-Period Action. Toronto Maple Leafs No.42 Tyler Bozak slips the puck past Chicago Blackhawks goaltender No.50 Corey Crawford to score while Blackhawks No.36 Dave Bolland defends. February 29, 2012 I Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

Corey Crawford owned the No. 1 goalie spot to such an extent down the stretch last season, you half- expected him to produce a receipt as proof of purchase of the Blackhawks’ crease.

Crawford supplanted Marty Turco as the go-to goaltender and finished his rookie campaign by starting the last 34 games, including all seven in the playoffs.

But coach Joel Quenneville has opted to start Ray Emery, who’ll get the nod Friday against the Senators, in five of the last 15 games.

Crawford also hit a low Wednesday, when he was yanked for the second consecutive game after allowing three goals on 10 shots in the first period against the Maple Leafs.

“It’s a tough time right now where I can’t even finish a game,” Crawford said. “I just got to keep working hard and stay focused. I don’t want it to get worse than it is. I just want to play hard and play for these guys and do what I can to help them.”

He isn’t entirely to blame for his struggles, though. Winger Marian Hossa, for one, stressed the skaters’ need to live up to their end of the bargain, as well.

“We’re not helping him at all,” Hossa said. “Especially the first period [against Toronto], we started really poorly. There [were] rebounds around him, open guys around him, so we kind of let him down. We need to be better in front of him or [Emery], simple as that.”

Regardless, it has gone sideways for Crawford. He has shown flashes of why the Hawks rewarded him with a three-year, $8 million contract last summer – including four consecutive wins in which he saved 115 of 120 shots to help halt the team’s catastrophic nine-game losing streak.

But the consistency that the Hawks coveted last season hasn’t been there. And now that the Hawks once again find themselves in a battle just to make the postseason, Quenneville has opted to lean on Crawford’s backup.

“I’ve never been through this since I started playing goalie,” Crawford said. “I’ve gone on streaks where they’re a little bit tougher, but to be up and down this drastically. … I’m trying to find answers; maybe I’m thinking too much. It’s just not acceptable. I’ve got to be better for us. We’re fighting for a playoff spot, and I’ve got to find a way to make big saves. It doesn’t matter the situation.”

Quenneville didn’t outright say Thursday that the position was up for grabs. Then again, he never has while making four goalie changes in the last four years.

And for the time being, Emery is just focused on being ready when he’s given the opportunity.

“Certain situations call for two guys battling against each other,” Emery said. ‘‘When the year started, it was made clear there was a certain expectation, and that’s kind of what you follow – what you’re told.”

But depending on how Emery fares Friday, what he and Crawford are told during the last 17 games could change drastically.

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