Remember when Corey Crawford was the alleged weak link for the Chicago Blackhawks?
Despite looking like he had the yips a few weeks ago against the Nashville Predators, this is still the same goalie who has stoned the Wild the past two postseasons.
So maybe it should come as no surprise that three games into the latest Wild-Blackhawks playoff round, the Wild has not magically turned him into mincemeat.
With Wild fans chanting “CRAW-FORD, CRAW-FORD” in an attempt to get inside his head throughout Tuesday’s game, it was Crawford once again displaying that he’s the one inside the Wild’s head.
Crawford made 30 saves to hoist the Blackhawks to a 1-0 shutout victory and put the Wild on the brink of season completion.
“Crawford, he’s a star against us,” coach Mike Yeo said of the arch-nemesis who is 11-3 against the Wild in three consecutive postseasons. “He’s [Martin] Brodeur. He’s [Patrick] Roy. He’s everybody against us, so we’ve got to find a way to solve that.”
The Wild is in an almost impossible situation now. Last year’s Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings was the fourth of 180 teams in NHL history to rally from a 3-0 series deficit and beat the San Jose Sharks in the first round.
The Blackhawks, winner of two Stanley Cups since 2010, are not the Sharks.
“I’m disappointed for our guys, that’s for sure,” Yeo said. “Obviously, we know what we’re up against right now.”
The Wild, facing an 0-3 deficit for the third time in franchise history, generated enough chances to win Game 3. But Yeo said, “We didn’t get the result that I think we deserved.”
That’s because Crawford has held the Wild to one goal in the past 7½ periods, and the Blackhawks stopped a seven-game Game 3 losing streak in road games by riding Patrick Kane’s first-period power-play goal all the way to the bitter end.
After a rare Jared Spurgeon minor penalty, Kane yelled for the pass from Patrick Sharp in the neutral zone. The puck deflected off Matt Cooke to Andrew Shaw. Matt Dumba overcommitted to Shaw, and that left Kane all alone with Devan Dubnyk once he received the pass.
What happened? “Well, he shot it through my legs,” Dubnyk said of “Showtime” Kane’s sixth goal of the playoffs and fourth of the series to extend his goal streak to four games and point streak to six.
Until the goal at the 14:06 mark, Dubnyk had been solid on a number of quality chances the Wild surrendered off turnovers.
From there, the Blackhawks admittedly got into a defensive shell, and Crawford was brilliant.
Crawford stood tall on shots by Jason Zucker and Nino Niederreiter in the first period. In the second, he denied Mikael Granlund on a breakaway, Niederreiter from the edge of the crease and Zach Parise twice.
Maybe the most notable sequence showing just how much Crawford is in the Wild’s melon was a pressure shift by the Parise-Granlund-Jason Pominville line. On back-to-back rushes, Pominville first passed up a shot coming down the wing and forced a pass that didn’t come close to connecting. Moments later, he was point-blank with Crawford and fired wide.
“I just missed,” Pominville said. “We had some good looks, weren’t able to find a way to put one in and they miss a play, get a bounce and end up scoring a goal. That’s the difference.”
Wild players left the ice with their heads slumped. The locker room was silent, and frankly nobody could believe they were facing elimination for a third consecutive year so quickly against its Central Division rival.
“Things were rolling for us. We were scoring goals, we were keeping pucks out of the back of our net,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “Everyone was playing well and now we’re down 3-0.”
Players vowed not to give up.
“We’re still breathing. We’re still alive here,” center Charlie Coyle said. “And it’s just up to us to get that next one.”
Yeo said: “We’ve got to win a game. It’s as simple as that. In all honestly, I’ve never been here before. It’s kind of unfamiliar territory. … The only thing I can say is we came back from the dead once before this season, and the only way we did that was with character and belief. That’s what we need right now.”
The Wild has one shot Thursday to avoid becoming the 112th NHL team to be swept from the playoffs.
“We have to make sure we play our heart out next game … and make sure we get some goals,” Niederreiter said.