Stanley Cup Final 2013: Chicago's Corey Crawford Proving He's an Elite Goalie

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Stanley Cup Final 2013: Chicago's Corey Crawford Proving He's an Elite Goalie
Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

CHICAGO—Corey Crawford is no longer at the back of the line.

When it comes to elite goaltender play in the Stanley Cup playoffs, Crawford is now front and center with Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings and perhaps Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins.

If the Chicago Blackhawks can follow up on their Stanley Cup Final triple overtime 4-3 victory in Game 1 and go on to beat the Bruins, Crawford may be in a position to haul away quite a bit of hardware.

He'll get his turn to hoist the Stanley Cup, and he also may get a chance to bring home the Conn Smythe Trophy.

Tim Thomas and Quick have won that award the last two years, so it's clear that goaltenders receive strong consideration. Crawford is earning that consideration with his stellar play.

He stopped 51 of 54 shots against the Bruins in Game 1, making brilliant saves from start to finish. Crawford was on top of his game in the first period when Brad Marchand drilled a shot from between the circles that looked like it was going into the top corner of the net.

However, Crawford flashed his glove like he was another Patrick Roy and plucked the puck.

In the multiple overtimes, he stopped Nathan Horton, Tyler Seguin (multiple times) and Torey Krug with sensational saves.

Teammate Marian Hossa told Tim Sassone of the Arlington Heights Daily Herald that his goaltender is at the top of his game.

 

Crawford's Game 1 performance may be freshest in the collective memory, but he has been on top of his game throughout the playoffs.

He leads all playoff goalies with a 1.73 goals against average and he has a .936 save percentage along with one shutout.

"Cro (Crawford) has done everything you would want from a goalie in the postseason," said head coach Joel Quenneville. "He has given us a chance to win every night with his consistency and his skills. As a coach, that's all you can ask for and he's done just that."

In the opening series against the Minnesota Wild, Crawford set the tone for his excellent postseason with a 2-1 overtime victory in Game 1. He stopped 26-of-27 shots in that game, including the seven he faced in the extra session.

That was vital because Crawford endured three overtime losses in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs when the Blackhawks were eliminated in the first round by the Phoenix Coyotes.

Chicago eliminated the Wild in five games.

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The conference semifinal round against the Detroit Red Wings demonstrated how well Crawford could play in pressure situations. The Blackhawks fell behind by a 3-1 margin and were one loss from seeing their dream season come to a halt.

However, Crawford played his best hockey the rest of the way, holding the Red Wings to five goals in the last three games, including just one in the Game 7 overtime victory.

Crawford had another challenge in the Western Conference Final against the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.

Darryl Sutter's team was considered battle-tested, and Quick was clearly their best player. Going into the series, the Kings appeared to have the edge in goal.

Crawford wasn't buying that. While the Blackhawks were clearly the better team in the first two games at home, the Kings had been unbeatable at the Staples Center. They won Game 3 and appeared to be back in the series, but the Blackhawks became the only team to pin a postseason loss on the Kings at home when Crawford stopped 19-of-21 shots in a 3-2 Game 4 victory.

The fifth and deciding game was another multiple overtime victory for the Blackhawks. Los Angeles tied the game with nine seconds remaining, but Crawford held tight after that. He stopped the 13 shots he faced in the overtime periods before Patrick Kane sent the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup Finals with a vicious slap shot that beat Quick cleanly.

Crawford started off at a high level in the playoffs and he has picked up his play after every round. That's what it takes to win a Stanley Cup and it could also earn him a Conn Smythe Trophy as well.

 

Steve Silverman is a credentialed reporter covering the Stanley Cup Final in Chicago for Bleacher Report. Quotes in this story were obtained first-hand unless otherwise indicated.

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