Corey Crawford gets bounce-back win in Game 5Continue reading.
Cool, calm, collected Corey Crawford channels confidence in chase for consecutive Cups
Asked prior to Game 5 of the Blues-Blackhawks series if there had been any surprises so far, T.J. Oshie said there had not been. Well, maybe one.
“I think Crawford’s been really good and I don’t know if we’ve seen that before because we haven’t see him in the postseason,” Oshie said. “But if we get in front of him, I think we’re going to be OK.”
For some reason, Corey Crawford always looks like the goalie you can beat. It’s as if the only thing anybody thinks of when they hear “Corey Crawford” are those two soft goals Crawford allowed in overtime against the Phoenix Coyotes in 2012. That was two years ago, and since then Crawford has come up big to make the difference in one series after another for the Blackhawks.
This is nothing new for the 29-year-old Crawford. Last year he was the Hawks’ best postseason player en route to winning the Stanley Cup — even Conn Smythe winner Patrick Kane said Crawford should have received the playoff MVP award. But Crawford wasn’t even the best goalie on his team in the eyes of Vezina Trophy voters. He finished in eighth place — well behind winner Sergei Bobrovsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets and even behind teammate Ray Emery, who was seventh.
And though he allowed a couple of goals he’d like to have back in the Blues series, Crawford did what he does best — he came up big when his team needed him most. He stopped 34-of-34 shots (a 1.000 save percentage) in a critical 2-0 victory in Game 3 — holding onto a one-goal lead for more than 55 minutes of the game. And he was just as good in stifling six Blues power plays — stopping 17 shots in the second period alone — in the Hawks’ 5-1 victory in Game 6 at the United Center that clinched the series.
But it’s as if Crawford literally will have to stand on his head to get the respect he deserves. Even Blues coach Ken Hitchcock — who analyzes the game as an active coach as objectively as anyone in the NHL — struggled to praise Crawford. After the Game 3 shutout, Hitchcock was asked if Crawford “was that good.”
“I think you look and we get another day-and-a-half off, we’re going to have more energy to do the things we need to do. We’re a hard-scoring team,” Hitchcock said. “But he made some saves — we saw three from our bench he made that he didn’t even see. [They] just hit him. We’ve got to stay the course and if we continue to play at this pace and this level, we’re hoping that’s good enough to win the next game.”
For some reason, there’s something about Crawford that does not elicit confidence. But like the Blackhawks as a team, he responds to the moment.
“He rose to the challenge to what the playoffs mean, and how important his contribution is to the team and success,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Great response in the [Blues] series. He was solid the bigger the setting, the more important the game or the save or the situation. He seemed to be bigger, more square, following the puck well and looked like he picked up confidence throughout the series.
Crawford doesn’t waste a lot of energy analyzing his game or his success. His ability to actually take each challenge one shot at a time seems to work well for him.
“You try and have the same focus and preparation for each game to be just as good,” he said Wednesday after practice at Johnny’s West, “but not every game’s the same and things don’t always play out the same. I just try and be focused and ready for each shot.”
In his last four playoff series, Crawford has outplayed the Red Wings’ Jimmy Howard, the Kings’ Jonathan Quick, the Bruins’ Tuukka Rask and the Blues’ Ryan Miller. Quick, Rask and Miller are Olympians. Miller won the Vezina Trophy in 2009-10. But as well as he has played, he knows as well as anyone that it helps being on a loaded, balanced team.
“It’s a team thing, too,” Crawford said. “All our guys are playing hard together and our [defensemen] are playing outstanding. I’m just worried about my job and they’re worried about doing their’s, so … you don’t have to worry about anyone else.”
Crawford could get the “edge” on paper if the Hawks play the Wild and Darcy Kuemper in the second round of the playoffs. But probably not if it’s the Avalanche and Semyon Varlamov, a Vezina Trophy finalist. No matter, to the Hawks or Crawford.
“It’s a fun time of the year,” Crawford said. “I think we’re all excited to play even more at this time. It’s just fun. It’s exciting and the crowd is lout and I just enjoy when things are close and there’s a little more on the line.”