Is Corey Crawford the Chicago Blackhawks' Weak Link?

Dave LozoNHL National Lead WriterMay 25, 2014

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To answer the question proposed in the headline, yes. Yes, he is.

The Chicago Blackhawks have a Corey Crawford problem. It's not the sort of problem that has a devastating effect most times, as the Blackhawks have arguably the best group of forwards and defensemen in the NHL masking the problem. It's a formula that won the Blackhawks a Stanley Cup in 2013.

(A Stanley Cup following a 48-game season, but a Stanley Cup nonetheless.)

In 2014, the Corey Crawford problem is becoming a real problem.

For two straight games in the Western Conference Final, Crawford has teetered between a liability and non-factor for the Blackhawks, as the Los Angeles Kings have grabbed a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series with consecutive victories. He allowed four goals on 32 shots in Saturday night's 4-3 loss in Game 3, a performance that followed a 6-2 loss in which Crawford allowed five third-period goals on 12 shots.

This has been his modus operandi in this year's playoffs—two poor games per series.

In Games 1 and 2 against the St. Louis Blues, Crawford allowed eight goals in two losses. He was beaten late in the third period of each game to force overtime, and in Game 2 allowed a dubious goal to Barrett Jackman to give the Blues a win.

In Games 3 and 4 against the Minnesota Wild, he was beaten seven times on 48 shots in a pair of road defeats. Again, there were questionable goals allowed that hurt the Blackhawks.

In each series, the Blackhawks overcame those performances and found a way to win four games.

Against the Kings, however, the Blackhawks may not be so fortunate.

During every run to a Stanley Cup, no matter how superior the team, a goaltender will have to steal a few games and must avoid allowing the bad goal. Crawford did that in Game 6 against the Wild last series but that's been the exception, not the rule.

Jake Muzzin's goal in Game 2 of this series was stoppable, as were the goals from Tyler Toffoli and Drew Doughty in Game 3. Defenders of Crawford will say Muzzin put the puck right under the crossbar, Toffoli got behind the defense and Doughty fired a laser, but those are shots that elite goaltenders stop.

If Crawford is on his angle, he stops Muzzin. If Crawford keeps his pad along the ice, Toffoli doesn't score. If Crawford stops a shot he sees from that far away from the net, Doughty doesn't get the eventual Game 3 winner past him.

Every team wants its goaltender to stop all the easy ones and occasionally make the extremely difficult save. Every team wants its goaltender to be consistent.

Crawford has not been good enough regularly in the playoffs, and the Blackhawks may be on the verge of elimination because of it.


Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveLozo.

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