By Adam Hoge-
UNITED CENTER (CBS) The goaltender controversy is over.
Well, at least for the first game of the playoffs.
Corey Crawford will start in the net for the Blackhawks Tuesday night when they open their first round series against the Minnesota Wild at the United Center.
In all likelihood, Crawford would have been the starter anyway, but the decision for head coach Joel Quenneville was made easier by Ray Emery’s recent lower body injury. Quenneville ruled both Emery and center Dave Bolland out for Game 1 against the Wild, but added that he hopes both will be back soon.
Both players are listed as day-to-day with lower body injuries.
With Emery out, Henrik Karlsson will back up Crawford Tuesday night.
So does Emery’s injury end all speculation of a playoff rotation between the two goaltenders?
“Ray and I worked well together this year. We fed off each other really well and both guys have played well all year,” Crawford said. “I don’t know what the plan will be throughout the playoffs, but we’re just preparing for Game 1 and we can go from there after.”
In other words, Crawford hasn’t been told he’ll be the starter from here on out.
That, of course, could be a motivation ploy as the coaching staff tries to keep Crawford focused going into the playoffs. His struggles in last year’s first round exit against the Coyotes has been well documented and even though Crawford has played well this year, there still has to be some concern there.
Before the season started, Quenneville expressed optimism because young goaltenders can often go into a sophomore slump. He expected Crawford to rebound in his third season and so far, he has.
“I have to commend him on his attitude when the season started,” Quenneville said Monday. “I think we had a lot of questions in the offseason with the goaltender situation here.”
At least for Game 1 of the playoffs, those questions have been answered. But if Emery is available soon, it’s very possible Crawford will have a short leash if his playoff struggles carry over from last year.
Handzus Steps Up
When the Blackhawks traded for Michal Handzus at the trade deadline, they were looking for a boost at the faceoff circle and on the penalty kill. Handzus immediately filled that need.
But when Dave Bolland went out with a lower body injury last week in Vancouver, Handzus was suddenly asked to fit into a role he had not fulfilled in a while — providing offense as the second-line center.
Handzus responded by quickly tallying three assists against Edmonton two nights later.
“I don’t think we envisioned him to be playing with who he’s been playing with when (the trade) was made, but (Handzus) in his career has played with some good players and I think the way he was distributing the puck in the last few games shows that he’s capable offensively of seeing and making plays,” Quenneville said.
Small Scare For Crawford
While there’s no controversy over who is starting in net Tuesday night, there was a momentary scare during Monday’s practice when Crawford took a Patrick Sharp shot right off his facemask and was shaken up.
Practice was halted for about a minute as Crawford recovered and returned to his post.
“I’m a goalie. Pucks come at me. Eventually one is going to hit me in the head so no worries there,” Crawford said.
With a smile on his face, Sharp absolved himself of any blame, saying it was Jonathan Toews’ fault for skating in front of Crawford as he shot the puck.
The Blackhawks’ forward lines in Monday’s practice were as follows:
1st line: Sadd – Toews – Hossa
2nd line: Sharp – Handzus – Kane
3rd line: Bickell – Shaw – Stalberg
4th line: Bollig – Kruger – Frolik
Daniel Carcillo, Jamal Mayers and Ben Smith skated on a fifth line with white jerseys on.
For more Blackhawks coverage throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs, follow Adam on Twitter at @AdamHoge.