A little more than a week ago, ESPN analyst Barry Melrose called Corey Crawford the Blackhawks’ “Achilles’ heel.” That night, Crawford shut out the Minnesota Wild. Yahoo on Thursday said it wasn’t “sold” on Crawford, but that he’s “just good enough to win.” Two hours later, that same site wrote about what a stabilizing force Frederik Andersen has been for Anaheim.
Radio and TV pundits across North America routinely question Crawford’s ability. Opposing fans deride him as a Chris Osgood type, a system goalie, the lucky beneficiary of a great team in front of him (Osgood, by the way, has his name on the Stanley Cup three times).
Even Hawks fans waver on the guy, flip-flopping like politicians after each win, each loss.
Crawford clearly doesn’t care. It’s one of his strengths, actually, his mental toughness and his ability to block out all the noise. But the Hawks don’t understand it.
“He doesn’t get the credit he deserves,” Hawks general manager Stan Bowman told the Sun-Times. “I don’t know why that is. We talk about it internally; I’m not sure how that happens. I’m not part of the general public, but when you’re trying to anoint who’s a top-tier goaltender, this is a results-oriented business. And when you look at the results, there’s Corey with a very impressive resume.”
It was Crawford who backstopped the Hawks to the Stanley Cup in 2013, and even Patrick Kane said that he probably should have won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. Those who covered all four rounds voted Crawford; the national media that descended for the final two rounds voted Kane (who, to be fair, was brilliant in those two rounds).
And it was Crawford who stole the second-round series against Minnesota last spring. But a subpar effort in the Western Conference final against Los Angeles (he gave up 27 goals in seven games) fueled the doubts further. The Kings’ Jonathan Quick, it should be noted, was largely spared from such criticism despite giving up 13 goals in the final three games of the series. Both goalies had one Stanley Cup to their names at that point.
Even after arguably his best full season in the NHL, Crawford’s disastrous first round against Nashville this spring brought out more skeptics. He was yanked from Game 1 after giving up three goals in the first period behind a lifeless defense, then gave up six more in Game 2. He didn’t return until midway through the first period of Game 6, and hasn’t lost since. In fact, he was so good against Minnesota in a four-game sweep, a defeated Wild coach Mike Yeo compared him with Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur.
Crawford’s confidence has been tested repeatedly, and he’s passed every time. He bounced back from a first-round loss to Phoenix in 2012, he bounced back from the Kings series last year, he bounced back from the Nashville series this year.
“I think you learn that,” Crawford said. “You go through the same things and it’s either something that’ll bring you down or make you stronger. I’m pretty sure every player goes through stuff like that. It defines how you become as a player.”
Would it be better if Crawford didn’t have stretches from which he needed to bounce back? Of course. But perfection is unreasonable. Correction isn’t. That’s why Joel Quenneville said he never hesitated to pull Crawford when things were going poorly — because he knew the goalie was tough enough to handle it, and to be back at the top of his game when the time came.
“Part of being a goalie is moving forward, fighting through it and finding the puck the next time you get the opportunity to do so,” Quenneville said. “There’s always a lot of scrutiny on goaltenders, the bounce-back factor — whether it was a tough game or a tough goal, you’re always getting monitored. I think that’s all part of the job description, trying to keep an even keel and being positive going forward, and fighting through any adversity you’re dealing with. Corey’s done a good job.”
As well as Crawford played against Minnesota and down the stretch during Kane’s injury absence, Bowman was most impressed by how Crawford handled his brief demotion to the backup role behind Scott Darling. And while some knee-jerk pundits and fans were using the misstep as a call for Crawford to be traded this summer — moving his $6-million contract would significantly ease the Hawks’ salary-cap issues — Bowman said that’s not something he’s even considering.
“No, I think when you get a goalie like Corey, who’s won a Stanley Cup, you feel very fortunate,” Bowman said. “He’s been excellent. You just watch the way he handled everything. Even when he wasn’t in there, he was super positive and supportive of Scott. We’re very lucky and very happy to have Corey.”
So while few seem to believe in Crawford outside the Hawks’ dressing room, everyone does inside of it.
“We all believe in Crow; we know he’s a great goaltender,” Kane said. “We have all the confidence in the world in him.”