Corey Crawford makes a save in the third period of Sunday's 4-2 win… (Brian Cassella/Chicago…)
The puck stops with Corey Crawford.
In the first two games of the NHL's Western Conference finals against the defending Stanley Cup champion L.A. Kings, the 28-year-old Blackhawks goalie has recorded 50 saves and led his team to a 2-0 series lead.
Crawford's been nothing less than clutch during the playoffs, and his efforts—including a first-round shutout against Minnesota and a postseason-high 35 saves in Game 6 against Detroit—have not gone unnoticed by teammates or fans as the Hawks head to L.A. for Game 3 on Tuesday.
"He's been absolutely unbelievable for us," captain Jonathan Toews said. "It's one thing to play as good as he did early on, but I think the biggest thing is he hasn't shown any satisfaction. He keeps improving and he's as focused as he's ever been."
Crawford also has been the target of adoration from the United Center crowd, which chanted "Corey! Corey!" after a big save near the end of the second period of Sunday's 4-2 victory.
"It's pretty cool. We've had great fans for a while," Crawford said. "It's obviously nice when they're chanting and not booing you."
Not only has Crawford been protective of the net, but also of his teammates. Case in point: He broke up a skirmish involving Toews late in Sunday's game, again eliciting a "Corey! Corey!" chant from the fans.
"The guy grabbed him, got a couple free shots," Crawford said. "I figured it was enough. I just decided to go in there and grab his head."
Patrick Kane appreciated the effort.
"A few of us were laughing on the bench. It looked like [goalie Jonathan] Bernier was going to skate down and try and fight Crawford," he said. "He's playing great and he's sticking up for his teammates too. What more can a guy do?"
Heading into Tuesday's game, the Hawks will look to stay in control of the series and expect physical, tough games on the road against L.A., which has racked up a franchise-record 14 consecutive wins on home ice. But Chicago is on its own little streak after being on the brink of elimination last week. The Hawks clawed their way past Detroit and have now won five straight.
Meanwhile, the Kings will be looking to bounce back after the Hawks rattled goalie Jonathan Quick, who last season was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the player most valuable to his team in the playoffs. The goalie was pulled from the game in the second period.
Although Quick is the one whose name already is on the Stanley Cup, Crawford is holding his own.
In the playoffs, he leads the league in wins (10) and goals against average (1.57),and ranks second in save percentage (.938 to Quick's .940).
"He's playing great," Kane said. "To say it's a surprise and that we don't expect it from him, I'd be lying because it just seems to come natural now. I'm sure it's the same for their team. They expect that from Quick every night.
"[Crawford is] so big in the net, and it looks like nothing can get by him."
Patrick Sharp, who has gotten used to answering questions about Crawford this season, is on board.
"There's no question in our locker room," he said. "He's the guy we want in the net back there. He's proven it in the past. It's nice to see him finally get the credit that he deserves."
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