Minutes after Game 2 between the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues came to its conclusion with Barret Jackman's wrist shot from the boards sneaking through the pads of Corey Crawford, the Blackhawks goalie was under the gun.
Crawford had allowed the Blues to tie the game with less than seven seconds remaining in the third period on Vladimir Tarasenko's vicious wrist shot and then gave up the winner to put the Blackhawks in a 2-0 hole.
He took responsibility for the loss, saying he needed to be better. His head coach, Joel Quenneville, agreed with him and had a private meeting with Crawford after the loss.
When the Blackhawks returned to home ice Monday night for the third game of the series, Crawford was once again the marvelous goalie who had played a huge role in the team's championship run last year. He stopped all 34 shots he faced, and his performance keyed the Blackhawks' 2-0 victory.
Chicago has an opportunity to tie the series Wednesday night at the United Center. If the Blackhawks are going to do that, it's clear that Crawford is going to have to come up with another stellar performance.
But it's not time to jump to conclusions about Crawford's reputation.
He's not the stumblebum he appeared to be after the second game, and he's not the second coming of Dominik Hasek just because he blanked the Blues in Game 3. The Blackhawks need to finish this series against St. Louis before any legitimate conclusions can be drawn about Crawford's play.
However, he has demonstrated that he can respond to adversity. Quenneville said his talk with Crawford was basically one in which he gave him an "attaboy" for taking responsibility for the goals he gave up in St. Louis.
If that's what you want to believe went down, you are free to believe it. However, Quenneville has not become one of the most accomplished coaches in NHL history by holding his players' hands and telling them everything will be alright.
Quenneville told Crawford what he needed to do, and that helped the goalie focus on the task at hand. Now he must continue to play close to that level through the remainder of the series.
Even though Crawford stood on his head in last year's postseason—particularly against the Los Angeles Kings and the Boston Bruins—he has often drawn the ire of Blackhawks fans this season. He makes the 10-bell saves that can turn a game around, but he often gives up stoppable goals at inopportune moments.
Even when he has played well this season, he regularly gives up one goal per game that he should have kept out of the net. That kind of performance doesn't work against a top-of-the-line opponent like the St. Louis Blues.
While mental outlook and focus are key factors in any goalie's performance, Crawford told reporters that he made some physical adjustments in his game. He said he was lower in his stance in Game 3, and he also came out a bit further in his crease to cut down the angle the Blues' shooters had when they took aim at the Chicago net.
"I was a little bit lower in my stance," Crawford told the Chicago Tribune's David Haugh. "When they were rushing, I was more on my post. I felt I needed to move out instead of moving backward."
Those two changes are probably much bigger factors than the pep talks Crawford received from himself and his coach.
There's nothing wrong with Crawford's mental outlook. That's probably one of the strongest parts of his game.
In last year's Stanley Cup Final, Crawford seemed to be on the verge of losing it for his team when he gave up five goals to the Bruins in Game Four, all of which came on shots near his glove hand.
The Bruins had found his weakness and would surely continue to expose it in the final games of the series. Except that Crawford refused to let that happen.
He gave up three goals in the final two games, and the Blackhawks paraded the Stanley Cup around the TD Garden and then up and down the streets of Chicago when they returned home from their memorable trip to Boston.
Any goalie who can do that deserves a full playoff series—if not two—before his reputation gets trashed.
Crawford has come through under the toughest circumstances and he has demonstrated that he can play as well as anyone when he is on his game.
He has earned the benefit of the doubt.
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