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NHL commentary: A good competition for the Hawks to have

Published: Wednesday, April 10, 2013 11:03 p.m. CDT
Blackhawks goaltenders Ray Emery (left) and Corey Crawford are presenting coach Joel Quenneville with a good problem: a heated competition for the job in net as the Stanley Cup Playoffs near.

You people have it all wrong. You’re using the wrong description. The Blackhawks don’t have a goalie controversy. They have a goalie competition.

And you’re forgetting the most important word in this discussion: today.

As in, after shutting out the Wild in Minneapolis on Tuesday, Ray Emery is winning this goalie competition today and would be the starting goalie, if the playoffs started today.

Or would he?

Emery is playing today as if he’s paid like Corey Crawford. Wait. Emery is playing today the way the Hawks desperately hoped Crawford would be playing today, because Crawford is the bigger goalie. Teams love the big target in the net.

Their overall numbers are remarkably similar: Crawford is 15-4-4 with a 2.01 goals-against averge and .922 save percentage, while Emery is 15-1-0, 1.90 and .924.

Of late, though, Crawford is just 4-4-1 since March 8, while Emery has three shutouts in his last five starts.

Emery doesn’t give up the weak goal like Crawford, or the deflating goals Crawford allows.

If you want to talk frustrating, see Phoenix forward Mikkel Boedker’s overtime winners in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs last year.

So, it seems today as if Emery is your playoff starter, but stop it right there. Because here’s the thing that’s also true today: Emery’s shutout of the Wild was his first win over a team currently occupying a playoff spot since Feb. 22.

Coaches have been fired for less than choosing the wrong goalie in the playoffs. Smart coaches – and Joel Quenneville is one of the smartest coaches going – go with the hottest player at the game’s most important position.

But Quenneville also emphasizes matchups. Crawford, for instance, has beaten the dreaded Red Wings in all three of his starts this season, allowing one goal in each game, two of which went to overtime, while stopping 94 of 97 shots.

And would you look at that? If the playoffs started today – there’s that word again – the Hawks would face the Wings.

Emery is the hotter goalie today, but Crawford is the better matchup today. So who would start Game 1?

Doesn’t matter. Trick question. I wanted to see if you were paying attention. The playoffs don’t start today, or tomorrow, or next week. The playoffs don’t start for another nine games.

The Hawks’ next regular-season game, meanwhile, comes Friday at home against – ta-da! – the dreaded Red Wings.

If Quenneville goes with Emery on Friday, he’s saying every start matters and perhaps gives himself a chance to project Emery against Detroit in the postseason. If Quenneville goes with Crawford on Friday, history says he will be putting his goalie and team in the best position to win.

The goalie competition continues.

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