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Musick: Hawks' goalie decision draws near

Caption
(Charles Cherney)
Blackhawks players, including Patrick Kane, Brandon Saad, Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson, surround Jonathan Toews after Toews scored the eventual game winner in the third period Sunday in the Hawks' 5-3 win over the Predators at the United Center.

CHICAGO – It’s Monday, which probably means that you have to turn on your brain.

Here’s a multiple-choice quiz to get some cells moving around in that old cranium of yours.

Name the source and context for this comment: “All that stuff will get resolved.”

A) Dennis Rodman discussing the tensions with North Korea. B) Theo Epstein on how much longer Cubs fans must watch Carlos Marmol pitch. C) Cats everywhere on when to overtake humans for world domination. D) Joel Quenneville on the Blackhawks’ two-headed goaltending situation.

If you guessed “D,” give yourself a pat on the back. Try to be subtle about it. You might look a bit goofy patting yourself on the back, especially on a day when you’re expected to turn on your brain.

A tougher question is which player should be the Hawks’ No. 1 goaltender heading into the playoffs.

The answer remained murky after the Hawks’ 5-3 win Sunday against the Nashville Predators in front of 22,044 fans at the United Center. The Hawks (29-5-4) clinched a playoff berth with the win, although that has seemed inevitable since Groundhog Day or so.

Now, without fear of causing the world’s biggest jinx, we can discuss the Hawks’ playoff goaltender.

All season, Corey Crawford and Ray Emery have served as goaltenders “1A” and “1B,” in that order.

Those types of timeshares have become common for plenty of NHL teams during the regular season, but the playoffs are a time for goaltender decisiveness, not flip-floppiness or wishy-washiness.

Or maybe it’s OK to be undecided.

No, never mind, it can’t be.

Well…maybe this is an exception to the rule.

See how annoying that is?

Quenneville knows that he has a big decision to make regarding Crawford and Emery. The coaching graybeard (gray ’stache, at least) also knows he has a little bit more time to make that decision.

Ten games remain in the regular season for the Hawks, who hold a slight edge on the Anaheim Ducks for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference playoffs. The Hawks will travel north to play the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday before returning home to host the Detroit Red Wings on Friday.

I’ll leave it up to Quenneville to rotate his goaltenders for a few more games before taking a stand.

But in case he’s soliciting advice – don’t worry, he’s not – I’d give Emery first dibs on winning the job. Emery has been Mr. Consistency compared with the up-and-down Crawford, who seems equally capable of a dominant shutout or a five-goal disaster heading into every game.

With as much firepower as the Hawks have, why not go with the safer pick in net?

To be fair, Emery did not have his best game Sunday, although he didn’t receive a great deal of help from his teammates in front of him. A turnover by Johnny Oduya led to the Predators’ first goal, while a lost faceoff by Michael Frolik preceded the Predators’ second goal on a laser shot by Shea Weber.

Still, Emery did enough to preserve a one-goal win against the same team he shut out one day earlier. He improved to 14-1-0 this season with a 2.02 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage, which screams “backup goaltender” about as much as my wardrobe screams “high fashion.”

Those who campaign for Crawford as the Hawks’ playoff starter have a strong case, too. Crawford is 15-4-4 with a 2.01 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage, and entering Sunday he was fifth among all NHL goaltenders in goals-against average, 11th in save percentage and 12th in wins.

It’s the kind of “good problem” that coaches in all sports appreciate when it comes to playing time.

But it will be up to Quenneville to determine the best solution.

No wishy-washiness allowed.

• Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at tmusick@shawmedia.com and on Twitter @tcmusick.

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