He led the Blackhawks to one of the best regular seasons in NHL history last year. He played every game for them in their Stanley Cup championship playoff run. He gave up five goals in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, a game in which his weakness on shots to his glove-hand side was exposed.
It was a weakness that would have ruined most goalies. Crawford should have been a nervous wreck for Games 5 and 6. Instead, he limited the Boston Bruins to three goals in two games, and the Blackhawks ended up skating around TD Garden with the Stanley Cup.
Could any other goalie have done that? He was exposed on the game's biggest stage—no offense intended, Olympians—and it bothered him not one iota. He simply responded the next two games when the money was on the table.
"Looking back, I think it was kind of amazing how much pressure was put on him from the outside, whether he felt the pressure or not," Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith told NHL.com. "There was obviously lots of talk and a lot of pressure was put on him. I just think it shows you his mental resolve to stick with it. He's really grown over the last couple of years into an elite goaltender."
Think about some of the great goalies in Blackhawks history. Would Tony Esposito have managed to put that bad game behind him? Highly unlikely. Could Ed Belfour bounce back from such a poor effort? Perhaps, but it's not a sure thing. What about Antti Niemi, who led the Blackhawks to the 2010 Stanley Cup? Not a chance.
Most goalies carry every game with them. They act like it's in the past, but nearly every bad goal is front and center. The ability to put bad games and bad goals in the history books can help make a goalie special. Crawford clearly has that ability.
This is often overlooked by fans who think Crawford should be perfect every game. Nearly every team would like to have a goalie play at the level of Patrick Roy or Ken Dryden when both Hall of Famers were in their prime.
Crawford is not among the elite goalies in the game's history. But he played a leading role in the Blackhawks winning their second Stanley Cup, and he has earned respect as a result.
It seems he doesn't often get it. Perhaps it's because he signed a six-year, $36 million contract prior to this season and fans expect perfection.
Blackhawks fans tend to rail against Crawford nearly every time he lets in a goal. If he has an average or below-average game, the talk-show callers want to roast him and the hosts have to calm them down. Crawford gets ripped on popular websites with regularity.
There are some legitimate reasons as to why fans get upset with him. In the 2013-14 regular season, he seems to give up one stoppable goal in nearly every regular-season game.
His save percentage has not been among the league leaders. Crawford is stopping .916 percent of the shots he has faced this year. That's just slightly better than average, and 19 goalies who have played 20 or more games have done better in that category.
That's alarming, but Crawford has a 2.35 goals-against average and a 22-9-10 mark. He wins games for the Blackhawks, and Joel Quenneville is going to stick with him. The Blackhawks head coach knows that when the game is on the line, Crawford is going to help the Blackhawks win a lot more often than he is going to make a game-changing mistake.
Quenneville knows that Crawford has had some moments where he has not been his best. However, he was quite a bit better in January, and Quenneville sees improvement in his goaltender.
“Yeah, he’s been better,” Quenneville told ESPN.com. “I think every night he’s been solid. He’s got us some wins. He’s got us some points. It seems like he’s on top of his game, and he’s right where we want him to be.”
Those that expect Dominik Hasek-like performances from Crawford are never going to be satisfied. But he has brought home a Stanley Cup, and his coach and his teammates know he is capable of doing it again.
That should bring him the respect from the fans he deserves.
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