Despite his army of doubters, Corey Crawford comes through again for Blackhawks

SHARE Despite his army of doubters, Corey Crawford comes through again for Blackhawks
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TAMPA, Fla. — No one would blame Corey Crawford if he had trust issues with people. Here’s a man who has been raised up and put down, lauded and doubted, respected and rejected, sometimes before the end of the national anthem.

You say you don’t trust him? Or haven’t trusted him at times in the past? Or won’t trust him at some point in the future?

That makes you like lots of people aged three to 95 in the greater Chicagoland area. But guess what: Eventually you’ll have to eat crow, because you usually do.

Lost in Antoine Vermette’s game-winner, Teuvo Teravainen’s youthful oblivion and Andrew Shaw’s alleged gnaw was Crawford’s excellence in the Blackhawks’ 2-1 victory in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. A lesser goalie would have caved in to the Lightning’s barrage of first-period shots and evaporated under the glare of the klieg lights.

But a lesser goalie doesn’t have Crawford’s scar tissue. Look, when your own coach replaces you early in the playoffs and later comes back to you with a request to carry the team, you can either have the emotional strength of Kleenex or decide to show him what a foolish man he has been.

Crawford has been superb since losing his starting job to Scott Darling in the Nashville series. And it’s fair to say his teammates appreciate him much more than the viewing public does.

“There’s no doubt that it’s really tough to go through some moments like that where your team is really not helping you,’’ Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said Thursday. “Everything that’s being said about you away from the rink is not really good. All the blame, all the focus is being put on one guy, which that’s truly unfair in so many ways.

“… We see a guy that might be struggling like that, that’s putting a lot of heat on himself, like I said to an unfair degree, we try to rally that guy, make him feel better about himself. I think for the most part Crow does a great job of bouncing back, not letting those things bother him. If anything, he’s going to take that responsibility when he shouldn’t.’’

The Hawks wouldn’t have won Game 1 Wednesday without Crawford acting like one of those tall dancing balloons you might see outside a car dealership. In the first period, the Lightning played like their name implies, and the Hawks looked like they were seeking immediate shelter. Tampa Bay players were faster and quicker, but all they had to show for it was Alex Killorn’s remarkable backhanded, midair, whatever-you-call-that whack of a goal.

Crawford only had to stop 22 shots, but they were 22 desperate shots. He denied Tampa Bay’s Ryan Callahan on a breakaway in the third.

Crawford wasn’t made available to the media Thursday, but no worries. He has always tried to minimize the influence of public opinion on his psyche, which has been a very smart approach when fans have wanted his masked head on a platter. All he would say when coach Joel Quenneville replaced him in the first round is that he didn’t agree at all with the decision. He always has had a little abrasiveness to him, and it was good to see him hauling out the barbed wire. It meant he cared, a lot.

“He did an amazing job of coming back, playing great late in that series, and he’s done so ever since,’’ Toews said. “I think in a game like (Wednesday’s), it’s a great example of how he can really gauge when we’re going to need him more than ever. He shows up, and he’s ready for those moments.’’

Since his “hiatus’’ (Quenneville won’t call it a “benching’’), Crawford has gone 10-3, with a 2.05 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage. Trust that.

The Hawks found out Wednesday night that it’s going to take a more consistent effort to overcome Tampa Bay’s speed. In other words, whatever it takes — you know, within reason. Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said he thought Shaw bit him during a first-period scuffle. The Hawks of course said Thursday that they saw and knew nothing.

The Lightning did not seem overly impressed with Crawford after Game 1. Good, not great was the vibe. Crawford has probably heard that in his sleep since becoming a starter in the 2010-11 season. Fine, but he was good enough to win a Stanley Cup in 2013. Here’s betting he’s good enough to win another one this season.


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