Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford took as many shots off the ice following Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final as he did on the ice Wednesday night. Crawford had a response in Game 5 Saturday night for the Boston Bruins, as well as the naysayers.
Crawford's play said it all. Ray Emery can stay safely on the Blackhawks' bench, thank you.
After allowing five goals despite winning Game 4 in Boston, Crawford returned to the United Center and stopped 24 of the 25 shots he faced in a 3-1 Chicago victory. The win puts the 'Hawks up 3-2 in the best-of-seven series and confirms what anyone who understands them should already have known.
Crawford is Chicago's No. 1 netminder. He has carried the load the entire postseason. Win or lose, it's his net.
The calls for Crawford's removal were premature, at best, and ridiculous, at worst. The suggestion that Crawford had been figured out by the Bruins' shooters doesn't hold water based on what transpired Saturday night.
It's no secret that Crawford's glove is not his forte. However, Claude Julien is hardly the first coach to target the weakness. While a portion of the world sounded the death knell for the last few days, Crawford prepared for Game 5.
Guess what? He rebounded just as he has all season.
Crawford held the Bruins in check through the first two periods, while Chicago built a 2-0 lead on a pair of Patrick Kane tallies. A desperate Bruins team came after Crawford in the third. When the smoke cleared, the 'Hawks stood at center ice one win away from the Stanley Cup.
Sure, Crawford was victimized on the glove side for the lone Boston goal early in the third period. Of course, it took a laser one-timer from one of the hardest shooters in the NHL, Zdeno Chara, from the left dot to beat Crawford's glove.
Coach Joel Quenneville's decision (as if there was ever a decision to make) to stick with the goalie who has guided Chicago through the playoffs was nothing more than common sense. Crawford turned away a lot of point-blank chances in the final minutes and pulled even with his Bruins counterpart, Tuukka Rask, with identical 1.86 goals-against averages.
Pulling a potential Conn Smythe winner after a shaky performance in a game his team won would have been ill-advised to say the least. I have said all along that the 'Hawks need to sink or swim with Crawford, regardless of how well Emery played in the regular season.
You can debate all offseason whether Crawford is an elite goalie or the beneficiary of a dominant 'Hawks defense. In the here and now, it hardly matters. Crawford has been and should be the man in net from here on out.
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