The book on Corey Crawford was apparently all figured out. With five goals allowed to his glove side in Wednesday's Game 4, he seemed to face the most public criticism, even though the Chicago Blackhawks pulled out a 6-5 overtime win against the Boston Bruins.
Two off days only intensified the questioning and the public doubt, but when Chicago's goaltender took his place between the pipes for Game 5 Saturday night, it all melted away.
Crawford made 24 saves in Chicago's 3-1 Game 5 win, putting the Blackhawks one victory away from claiming its second Stanley Cup in three years.
It might be called a bounce-back game, but it came as no surprise to him or any of his teammates and certainly not his head coach.
Joel Quenneville described his goaltender's game as “rock solid.”
“You know, I think everybody was asking [about him] going into it,” Quenneville said. “Corey just moves forward. He's big, he moves, he anticipates. Nothing bothers him and just looks after the next shot.”
“It's great,” defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said of Crawford's performance. “I knew he was going to come back huge today. I've played with him in the minors and I know how he responds.”
Hjalmarsson also thought Crawford took too much flak after his Game 4 performance.
“It was an overall bad defensive game last game, it wasn't just him,” said the Swedish-born rearguard. “We let up way too many chances.”
As the goaltender, however, Crawford will often get the brunt of the blame no matter what. Even though the spotlight is brightest and the public chatter seems louder during the Stanley Cup Final, it hasn't fazed the 28-year-old.
“I'm not really listening to [the criticism],” he said. “I have a job to do. Whatever's being said doesn't really affect what I do on the ice.”
Crawford also credits his teammates for rallying around him.
“They've had my back the whole time,” he said. “Our team is pretty tight. We're not going to let anything affect us and just keep playing our game.”
And really, much of the criticism on Crawford has been mostly undue, especially as his game has grown with each NHL season he's played.
Crawford's glove may not be the best, but it was hardly the weak link it was made out to be. As our Adam Gretz wrote Friday, coming into Game 5, Crawford had allowed just one more goal to his glove side compared to his blocker.
He did get beaten over the glove again by a Zdeno Chara blast for the Bruins' lone goal Saturday, but there aren't many (read: zero) goalies that would have caught up to that.
More importantly, Crawford did catch up to 24 other shots and made several key stops in a game his team offered much more help defensively.
“When the team plays better you get results,” Hjalmarsson said.
Crawford agreed and praised his defense for making things more difficult on the Bruins Saturday night.
“It's been the same story all year,” Crawford said. “Great sticks, taking away passing lanes and just letting me play the shot and some big blocks, too, throughout the game. Our guys have done that stuff all year long.”
The only thing that should be louder than the criticism of Crawford at this point is his Conn Smythe buzz.
As star players struggled to produce offensively for Chicago until recently, Crawford has been a constant throughout the playoffs. His 1.38 goals-against average is identical to counterpart and chief Smythe competition, Boston netminder Tuukka Rask. Crawford also boasts a .932 save percentage (Rask has a .941 mark).
Crawford has been the only goalie that has seen action for the Blackhawks this postseason, spending 1,444:03 between the pipes. That's something not even Rask can boast.
However, now Crawford is in a position he's not yet experienced in his young career. He's just one win away from every hockey player's dream. So another obvious question: How will he handle that?
“It's exciting to have the opportunity,” Crawford said of having the Cup within a win's reach. “But you can't get too up and have to prepare the same way we have all year, play the same game and not try to do too much.”
If Crawford plays the same game he did in Game 5, the most important question he'll have to answer next will be about his ring size.