Is Corey Crawford Able to Take Chicago Blackhawks on Another Deep Playoff Run?

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistApril 10, 2014

Pittsburgh Penguins' Lee Stempniak (22) puts the puck behind Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford (50) for a goal in the first period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, March 30, 2014. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Gene J. Puskar

Corey Crawford has turned into a scapegoat for Chicago Blackhawks fans this year.

The team has not had the regular-season success that it did a year ago, and Crawford has not had the same kind of season he did in 2013.

Crawford had an excellent regular season last year and he followed that up with an even better performance during Chicago's Stanley Cup run. However, his numbers have not been anywhere near as good as they were a year ago.

Crawford has a 32-15-10 record, with a 2.22 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage. Last year, Crawford had a 19-5-5 record in the lockout-shortened season, along with a 1.94 GAA and a .926 percentage. 

During the postseason, Crawford had a remarkable 1.84 GAA and a .932 save percentage while compiling a 16-7 record. More than the numbers, Crawford's ability to stay in the moment and put bad goals behind him probably had as much to do with the Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup as any one single factor, and that includes the 17 seconds of glory that allowed them to turn a one-goal deficit to a victory in the decisive Game Six of the Stanley Cup Final.

If Crawford is going to have the opportunity to lead the Blackhawks on another championship run, he is going to have to regain the ability to put the tough moments in the rear-view mirror and string saves together.

The numbers are not as good as this year, and it seems Crawford has had problems playing consistent hockey for 60 minutes at a time. Head coach Joel Quenneville has been publicly supportive of Crawford for the majority of the season, but there have been times when he has not been pleased with some of the goals that Crawford has allowed.

In Wednesday's 3-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens, Crawford let a seemingly easy shot from Francis Bouillon get by him midway through the third period.

That goal from the point came moments after the Blackhawks had tied the score on a vicious wrist shot from Jeremy Morin. Instead of taking that momentum and seizing control of the game, the Blackhawks were in scramble mode, thanks to Crawford's gaffe giving the lead back to the Habs.

Crawford tried to make up for his mistake when he robbed Montreal sharpshooter Max Pacioretty with a beautiful glove save on a nasty shot from the slot moments later. That stellar save kept the deficit at one goal, and the Blackhawks were able to send the game to overtime when Marian Hossa tied the score in the final minute of regulation.

Patrick Sharp would go on to win the game in overtime for the Blackhawks.

Crawford knows he is playing for a team that has more than enough firepower to overcome a one or two-goal deficit when all of Chicago's stars are healthy and playing at peak efficiency. However, that's not the case right now, as Patrick Kane (lower body) and Jonathan Toews (upper body) are out with injuries in the last phase of the regular-season home stretch.

While both players are expected back for the postseason, it may take a game or two before they hit their normal stride.

If the Blackhawks are going to play at a consistent winning level in the postseason like they they did a year ago, they will need Crawford to pick up his game and play consistently. 

Nobody expects Crawford to shut down opponents completely in the postseason, but when he is on his game, he will make his best stops at the biggest moments. That was the case in the final three games of the Stanley Cup Final last year.

In Game Four, Crawford gave up five goals to the Bruins and all of them were to the glove side. The Bruins had exposed a weakness to his game, and there was no getting around that. However, after Brent Seabrook scored in overtime in that game and allowed Chicago to square the series, Crawford put that performance in the past.

He gave up three goals over the next two games and the Blackhawks won both to bring home the championship. The Bruins tried shooting at his glove hand, but Crawford stopped them when the Stanley Cup was on the line.

Crawford is not on that level right now, but he is not that far away. If he can pick up his performance just a bit and all of his teammates are healthy, there's no reason why he can't play well enough to take the Blackhawks on another long playoff run.