Crawford Finally Getting Recognition
From Steve Yzerman’s double overtime goal in ’96 to Cam Ward’s Cup final heroics in 2006, every post season has its moments which live on in hockey folklore forevermore. Careers can be forged, or destroyed, in the play-offs.
Claude Lemieux became a star, winning four Cups and a Conn Smythe trophy, whilst Marc Andre Fleury’s reputation may never recover. All off the back of their play-off performances.
The 2014 post season is fast becoming Corey Crawford’s coming out party – with the hockey world finally waking up to the Blackhawk’s stoppers talents.
Henrik Lundqvist and Carey Price have garnered much of the attention between the pipes, whilst the Ducks goaltending controversy dominated the Western goaltending ‘narrative’. All whilst Crawford has been quietly spectacular for the defending champions.
Second only to Lundqvist in wins and save percentage, Crawford has the best goals against average in the play-offs and has seen off Ryan Miller and the mighty St Louis Blues, the ‘plucky’ Minnesota Wild and helped Chicago take a 1-0 series lead over LA on Sunday, stopping 24 shots on the way to a 3-1 victory.
And the Montreal native’s play is finally getting noticed. There’s even talk of Crawford as a Conn Smythe contender!
Once upon a time you could be forgiven for thinking Chicago won in spite of Crawford. That he was simply the lucky schmuck who landed the Hawks #1 job and got to watch whilst messrs Toews, Kane and Keith went to work.
This argument is, to a point, understandable. The Blackhawks are consistently among the best teams in the regular season and a perennial Cup contender. As a result Crawford is not as heavily relied upon as, say, Semyon Varlamov was for Colorado this year. This trend can be seen when examining GSAA (goals saved above average – an excellent guide to which can be found here). Whilst Varlamov, who saw more rubber than the Dunlop factory this year, finished atop the GSAA rankings, Crawford was just 25th; well behind the likes of Tuukka Rask, Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist.
Whilst some may make the assumption Chicago could have almost anyone in there; this is extremely unfair on Crawford.
Great defences are built as a unit, which includes the goaltender. And Chicago has a great defence.
Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are the ‘names’, while Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya often get the tougher assignments. Crawford is the constant throughout; giving Keith faith to join the rush, Patrick Kane the freedom to make a move without worrying what happens if he turns the puck over and the Blackhawks the confidence that they can win every single night.
If you have no faith in your goaltender, you don’t tend to be very successful.
As I’ve alluded to many times; the relationship between blue line and goaltender is symbiotic. Ryan Miller and the St Louis Blues failed to gel, leading to another disappointing play-off exit for the Missouri franchise and the most anticipate trade of the 2014 deadline a bust.
Crawford meanwhile is 115-59-29 with the Hawks, and helping the club do its best to become the first to win back-to-back Cups since Detroit in 1998.
The 29-year old is not one of those rare talents that can single handedly carry a franchise in the way Patrick Roy or Dominik Hasek did. But he’s a key cog in one of the most fearsome machines of the modern era.
It’s time he got a little credit for that – and thankfully, finally, he is.