In Corey Crawford’s first two games away from the United Center this postseason, he gave up nine goals in four periods and posted an 0-1 record before being benched in favor of Scott Darling for Game 3 of the Chicago Blackhawks’ series against the Nashville Predators.
Crawford ultimately made his way back into the lineup against Nashville in Game 6 of that series, holding the Predators at bay as the Blackhawks stormed back and captured the series victory. Crawford’s solid play has continued through the first two games of the team’s current series against the Minnesota Wild, but Tuesday night provided his biggest test yet as he looked to show that the issues that plagued him in the Music City were behind him.
Not only did Crawford prove that he could provide solid goaltending in the game, but he showed that he is still capable of stealing a game for his team when he’s needed. The Blackhawks got one goal in the game off the stick of Patrick Kane, and that’s all Crawford needed as he stopped 30 shots and helped the Hawks to a 1-0 victory and a 3-0 series lead.
The fact that Crawford didn’t give up a goal in the game was nice, but it was the way that he played that stood out. Brimming with confidence after an excellent Game 2 performance (aside from one soft goal on a power play rush), Crawford looked like he usually does, moving fluidly from post to post and using excellent rebound control to keep plays in front of him. His pad work was especially good in this game, and he absorbed plenty of shots to prevent second chance scoring opportunities throughout the game.
His finest moment came late in the third period when Mikael Granlund fired in a slap shot from the left face-off circle. The shot hit Crawford up high in the shoulder, but instead of yielding a rebound to a couple of on-rushing Minnesota players, Crawford was able to smother the puck and force a face-off instead.
In the first two games of the Nashville series, Crawford likely would’ve been closer to the goal line and probably would’ve coughed up a rebound. On that play, he was out on top of the blue paint, cutting off shooting lanes and forcing Granlund’s hand, and he ultimately made a huge save that helped lead his team to victory.
Crawford is still far from being a perfect goaltender, but the fact is that he is capable of playing dynamic hockey when his confidence and his fundamentals are in shape. Both elements of his game were present on Tuesday, and the result is that Chicago is one win away from advancing to the Western Conference Final for the third straight year.