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Corey Crawford’s unsung playoff heroism for Chicago Blackhawks

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Antti Niemi is a Vezina Trophy candidate for the San Jose Sharks, which is rather remarkable when you consider he’s Antti Niemi.

That’s not a knock on his talent, which is considerable, or his importance to the Sharks, which was enormous. That’s to say that Antti Niemi getting credit for his goaltending prowess is a recent trend, and something we didn’t seen when he backstopped the Chicago Blackhawks to the 2010 Stanley Cup.

There was a perception that the Hawks won despite him. At best, he was an anonymous netminder that was competent but unspectacular for a Blackhawks team whose stars up front and on the blueline overshadow the goalies.

Corey Crawford knows the feeling.

All Crawford has done through four games against the Minnesota Wild is lead the NHL in GAA (1.39) and save percentage (.949) while going 3-1 with a shutout.

Is he mentioned as a potential Conn Smythe candidate for the Blackhawks? Not as much as Patrick Kane, or Jonathan Toews for that matter. Is he mentioned among the elite goalies in the 2013 postseason thus far? He’s probably been mentioned less than Niemi, Braden Holtby and Craig Anderson.

Part of this is having something to prove: Like that he can win a playoff series, having gone 0-for-2 as a starter, including last season’s tough loss (2.58 GAA) to the Phoenix Coyotes.

Now he’s on the cusp of advancing for the first time, up 3-1 on the Minnesota Wild.

From Tom Musick of the Northwest Herald:

“I saw him dominate a Vancouver series two years ago,” [Patrick] Sharp said when asked whether Crawford was playing his best hockey yet. “He was our best player – took us to seven games and overtime. We probably didn’t really deserve to be there the way we were playing as players. And I thought he was good last year.

“He’s answered a lot of questions about his play. I feel like he’s been strong ever since he joined the team. There are no question marks from our players looking back at our goaltending.”

He doesn’t need to dominate. He just needs to not be a liability, and not be a concern for his defense.

As Brent Seabrook told ESPN.com, Crawford’s been just that:

“It’s great," he said. "The less crap you have to deal with is better, it’s better on all of us. He’s been great and he’s held the fort for us all year as well as (backup) Ray (Emery). It’s been nice having both those guys back there."

Crawford and Emery split time this season, with Crawford playing 30 games and Emery going in 21, sporting a 17-1-0 record.

Emery’s been injured throughout this series; when healthy, he’ll be a viable option for the Blackhawks should Crawford falter. But as of now, faltering is the last thing that comes to mind with Crawford. The defense is front of him has been stellar, but he’s also done everything that’s been asked of him.

It’s an interesting moment for Crawford from a Stanley Cup Playoffs perspective ... and from an Olympic perspective.

Carey Price is hurt. Marc-Andre Fleury’s been pulled from his series. Roberto Luongo and Marty Brodeur are older, and Cam Ward’s not in the postseason.

The Montreal native has the spotlight. Let’s see how he continues to perform in it.

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