The Chicago Blackhawks roll into Minnesota on Tuesday with a 2-0 series lead in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but even with goal scoring exploits by Patrick Kane dominating highlight reels and headlines, there is another story that deserves to be watched.
That story belongs to goaltender Corey Crawford, who seems to be regaining the form that he had lost during the Blackhawks’ first round series against the Nashville Predators. The numbers “9” and “4” remain seared into the brains of Blackhawks fans, as Crawford allowed nine goals in four periods of action in Games 1 and 2 of that series. Scott Darling ended up starting four straight games for the Hawks, but a relief appearance in Game 6 brought Crawford back into the fold and propelled the Blackhawks into the second round.
In this new series, it seems as though Crawford has exorcised the demons that plagued him in the previous set of games, and he’s looked mostly solid against the Wild.
In two games, Crawford has surrendered four goals on 64 shots, and he played well in Game 2 as the Hawks seized a 2-0 lead in the series. His rebound control looked to be improved, as he kicked pucks into lower-traffic areas and moved across the crease well to cut off scoring chances in the game.
Now, Crawford will be in for his biggest challenge of the postseason thus far as the team heads to Minnesota for Game 3.
While Bridgestone Arena in Nashville was plenty loud for the Predators in the first round, Xcel Energy Center is a different animal altogether. The crowd noise there will be unreal, and it will be Crawford’s first test outside of Chicago since he was benched after a miserable Game 2 performance in Tennessee last month.
While good defense and maintaining the effective play of the forward lines despite losing the advantage of last line change will both be big keys for the Blackhawks on Tuesday (we’ll elaborate more on that later in the day), Crawford ultimately is the biggest factor in whether or not the Hawks can take a stranglehold grip on this series.
He has risen to plenty of challenges in his career with the Blackhawks, and this will be one of the most important ones to overcome as the team looks to go up three games to none in this game.