The question seemed to strike a nerve with Corey Crawford. After shutting out the Wild 1-0 on Tuesday for his fourth consecutive playoff victory, the Chicago goaltender was asked whether the game was more gratifying because of what he endured in the first round.
Crawford hesitated for a moment, as if he needed a bit of time to recall being pulled in the first game against Nashville and giving up six goals in the second. Then he answered, clearly and concisely. “First round’s over,” Crawford said. “We’re happy with this win, and we’re preparing for the next game.”
Crawford’s teammates were far more effusive about his 30-save performance. Several said he had earned their trust, after winning 32 games and compiling a 2.27 goals-against average during the regular season and backstopping the Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup in 2013. Their faith has been rewarded in the second round, as Crawford has allowed four goals on 94 shots.
The goalie withstood a Wild barrage in the second and third periods Tuesday. Crawford made a number of brilliant saves, including pushing aside a puck at the left post with the Wild swarming at the goalmouth midway through the third. The shutout was the fourth of his career in the playoffs and his second against the Wild in 14 career postseason games.
“I think some of it might get overblown,” defenseman Duncan Keith said, speaking of Crawford’s struggles in the first round. “When you’re a good goalie, when you’re a good player, you believe in yourself. If people want to say they don’t think you’re good, it’s just talk.
“The team, we know what kind of goalie he is. For [Crawford], it was just believing in himself.”
Keith noted the Blackhawks felt they had let Crawford down in the first round. He lasted only 20 minutes in the opener against the Predators, allowing three goals on 12 shots. Coach Joel Quenneville started him in Game 2, and Crawford followed up by giving up six goals on 35 shots.
The Blackhawks blamed poor team defense, with Keith saying they “hung [Crawford] out to dry” on some plays. They vowed to support him better going forward, though they had to wait. Crawford sat out Games 3, 4 and 5 against Nashville and did not return to the net until a shaky Game 6 start by Scott Darling, coming in to stop all 13 shots he faced to earn the victory.
Crawford entered the second round with a goals-against average of 4.19 and save percentage of .850. After Tuesday’s victory, he has improved to 2.52 and .916. Against the Wild in the postseason, Crawford now is 11-3 and has allowed 23 goals in 14 games.
“He settled down,” Quenneville said, when asked how much Crawford has improved since his shaky start to the postseason. “He came back in Game 6 against Nashville, the game’s on the line, and he did what he had to do to get the win. He got some confidence off that, and he’s been rock-solid in this series. We’re very happy with how he’s handled things.”
Crawford deflected much of the praise Tuesday to his teammates, who stood with him when the Wild buzzed the loudest. He said they allowed him to see every shot, swept away loads of rebounds and limited the Wild’s close-range chances.
“[Crawford] shut the door,” said Patrick Kane, who scored the game’s only goal. “He’s played huge, especially down the stretch here.”