Quietly—and to the surprise of some—Corey Crawford is becoming one of the NHL's best goaltenders.
"As a team we want to keep raising our level of play as the stage gets bigger and bigger, but I think if there's anyone that's doing that, it's Crow," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said after Crawford made 25 saves in Game 1.
Entering Wednesday, he led all net minders in the 2014 postseason with a 1.90 goals-against average and his save percentage was .933, just a smidge behind the N.Y. Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist (.934).
Oh yeah, and HE WON THE CUP LAST YEAR.
What must Crawford do to convert his doubters? Capture another Cup, maybe.
In the short term, leading the Hawks to a 2-0 advantage in the Western Conference final couldn't hurt. How'd he do?
Toughest save: Crawford made a right shoulder stop on lethal forward Marian Gaborik (nine goals, six assists in the playoffs entering Wednesday) on a promising Kings rush early in the period.
Nemesis: Himself. As a Hawks power play was just starting, he went to retrieve a puck from behind the net. Problem was, Jarret Stoll nabbed it and nearly created a scoring chance. Maybe he should be more careful.
You know Nick Leddy had waited all postseason for this. The Hawks caught the Kings being a too aggressive on a penalty kill, and Duncan Keith sprung the speedy defenseman for a breakaway. Leddy did the rest, going top shelf on Jonathan Quick to give the Hawks the lead.
Quick didn’t get any love from his teammates, either. With the puck at the doorstep halfway through the period, L.A. defenseman Slava Voynov slashed Quick in the head with his stick. Not on purpose, of course, but it knocked Quick’s helmet off and stopped play for a moment.
Keep your eye on Willie Mitchell; he's a bit of a rascal. The Kings defenseman committed two penalties in the period, including one that nearly cost his team a goal. Patrick Kane tried to flip one over Quick, and as the puck bounced down the goalie’s back, Mitchell shoved Peter Regin into the net, nearly knocking the puck in with him. No such luck though; video review showed it never went in.
Score: Blackhawks 1, Kings 0
Toughest save: Just after the Kings got on the scoreboard, they nearly tied it on a deflection by Dustin Brown. Lucky for the Hawks, Crawford's stick was there to save the day.
Nemesis: Justin Williams. He bumped Crawford's net off the moorings and knocked him over after the Hawks goalie made a save. Later, a Kings pass bounced off Williams and through Crawford's legs for L.A.'s first goal.
More breakaways! This time, Johnny Oduya hit Ben Smith in stride, leaving him alone with Quick. Smith did not miss, snapping it home on Quick's stick side for a 2-0 lead. You almost feel bad for the L.A. net minder.
The Kings are throwing everything they have at Patrick Kane, and it's working. The Hawks forward has had a hard time finding space. Beyond that, they squeezed him against the L.A. bench in the second period and held him up behind the play. And they were kinda nasty about it, given the reaction of the United Center faithful.
The most spectacular save of the period belonged to Quick. Brent Seabrook took a feed on a two-on-one and tried to roof one, but Quick sprawled from his right to his left and shut the door. Impressive. Most impressive.
Score: Blackhawks 2, Kings 1
Toughest save: Mike Richards had Crawford dead to rights on a three-on-one. Richards opted to shoot instead of pass, and the Hawks goalie denied him.
Nemesis: Drew Doughty. The Kings defenseman tossed a wrist shot over the right shoulder of Crawford with Bollig in the box to tie it at 2-2. Crawford might not have seen it, but he'd certainly like to have it back.
Two straight penalties led to a pair of Kings goals, putting the Hawks behind early in the third period. On the second infraction, a boneheaded too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty, Jake Muzzin zipped one over the top of Crawford on the short side.
The bounces simply weren’t going the Hawks' way. A blocked shot ended up behind the Hawks' net, then on Tyler Toffoli's stick in front thanks to a centering pass. Crawford had no chance as Toffoli buried it for a two-goal Kings lead. And when Jeff Carter scored to make it 5-2, fans scurried to the exits.
Easily the worst game Crawford has had in a long time; he was visibly frustrated at times. Hawks fans hope he shakes it off on the long flight to L.A. Or it’s going to be an interminable trip back to Chicago.
Final score: Kings 6, Blackhawks 2
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