Crawford drawing comparisons to Niemi

Corey Crawford has won seven straight games, which has earned him the praise of his coach and teammates. Rob Grabowski/US Presswire

Just like a season ago, a young Chicago Blackhawks goaltender is beginning to make a name for himself.

With his seventh consecutive win Wednesday night, Corey Crawford has taken over the job from Marty Turco, at least for the moment. He's 8-4 after starting the season 1-4.

"We're enjoying it right now," coach Joel Quenneville said after practice on Thursday. "Our team has improved as we've gone along here. There's confidence both ways."

The seven wins are the most for a Hawks rookie netminder since Darren Pang in 1988.

"So far, it's a lot of fun," the understated Crawford said. "But [I] have to keep that same mentality and keep working hard. Sometimes when you're winning games, going through the motions could come. The biggest thing is to keep working hard and stay focused."

Quenneville said there are a lot of "similarities" between the soft-spoken Crawford and the man who beat him out a year ago, Antti Niemi. Niemi went on to win the Stanley Cup, though there were those in the Hawks organization who thought Crawford would eventually be with the team last season, and it would be Niemi who would be in the minors.

"I'm sure it was tough not getting a chance last year, but you have to commend him," Quenneville said. "He's patient with it and did what he had to do to keep his game improving, and to me -- for him, it was just a matter of opportunity, and we were fortunate to still have him, and here he goes."

The experience of going with the team to Europe last year to open the season, and then getting cut when the Hawks returned, wasn't easy for the 25-year-old Crawford. But he did learn something.

"Never give up," he said. "It was a bit of a tough time, every time you get cut from the NHL, especially last year. I thought I had a really good chance to make it. I just didn't give up. I kept working hard."

Perseverance is a lesson Crawford had to learn while playing five seasons in the minors.

It's paid off. He's 20th in the NHL in save percentage (.913) and 13th in goals against average (2.40). It may not sound like much, but those numbers don't indicate his clutch play. Like Niemi last season, when the game is on the line, Crawford has been up to the challenge.

"I do see that calm and coolness to him," Jonathan Toews said. "He's not putting any added pressure on himself. He wants it. You can tell he wants to play well and have that success. He's not biting off more than he can chew."

Crawford switched from forward to goalie when he was nine because of Patrick Roy, and he is just riding the wave of his first successful stint in the NHL.

"It's nice to play in front of this crowd," Crawford said. "It's one of the reasons I play hockey. To play in front of those people and see them cheer."

His teammates are cheering for him as well. He's helped put the Hawks in a better position in the playoff race.

"I talked to him this morning," Toews said Thursday. "I told him, ‘Keep working. Don't worry about any streaks like that. It'll keep going if we keep playing well.'

"Guys like him. He's got a good personality and is a fun guy to have around."

And he keeps on winning.