Corey Crawford is getting hosed.
It might not bother him, but it bugs me. Crawford is proving he’s an elite goalie, and people need to wake up, especially national people.
The Blackhawks just reached the Western Conference finals because of a goalie victory by a goaltender some people still don’t think can win a Stanley Cup even though he already has. Stop it, people. Stop it right now. Wire your TV with a hockey closed-captioning device or something.
And you know what? The Hawks reached the conference finals because of two goalie victories. Consecutive goalie victories, in fact. Crawford allowed one goal in Game 5 against the Wild the way he allowed just one in the clinching Game 6.
At least as clutch as Patrick Kane, don’t you think? More, actually. After all, Kane doesn’t get to play hero midway through overtime of Game 6 if Crawford doesn’t play hero for the previous 70 minutes.
And you know what else? If you go back to Crawford’s outstanding performances in Games 3 and 6 of the Blues series, four of the Hawks' eight victories this postseason are attributable to him.
So I have Crawford with as many game-winners as Jonathan Toews. Good company, no?
And speaking of good company, Crawford leads the playoffs with a 1.97 goals-against average and is tied with the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist with a .931 save percentage. Lundqvist is regarded by many as the best goalie in the world. Crawford often has trouble being regarded as the best goalie entering a series.
And yet last year Crawford emerged as the winning goalie every time. Same deal this year. He’s one of only two Cup-winning goalies remaining, so, why does acclaim elude him?
I have come up with several reasons, even if none of them are necessarily convincing.
First, Crawford is not a smooth goalie.
At 6 feet 2 and 208 pounds, he’s a big target. Teams like big targets in net. Every remaining playoff team has a big target in net, in fact.
Your Eastern Conference finals feature 6-1 Lundqvist and the Canadiens’ 6-3 Carey Price. The Hawks’ Western Conference finals opponent will be either the Kings’ 6-1 Jonathan Quick or the Ducks’ 6-3 John Gibson.
Difference with Crawford is, he looks comparatively ungainly. He’s not balletic, just effective. No, more than effective, he’s a fighter, which is a great quality in a goalie. But he doesn’t depict a calm grace the way, say, Lundqvist does.
I don’t know about you, but I feel worn out watching Crawford sometimes, which makes watching other top goalies less stressful. I think that reaction hurts Crawford’s chances of gaining deserved acceptance in the Elite Goalie Club.
Another reason Crawford gets disrespected is the Bowman family business of winning Stanley Cups.
Hockey Yoda Scotty Bowman directed the Red Wings to Stanley Cups with the approach that you need only a decent goalie when you have terrific top-six forwards and top-four defensemen.
That might have been true of goalies Chris Osgood and Mike Vernon behind the likes of Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan and Nick Lidstrom. It also might have been true when Bowman followed his son, Stan, to the Hawks and applied that thought to backup-turned-Cup-winner Antti Niemi.
And I believe that appeared to be the case with Crawford. But I don’t believe that’s the reality. I don’t believe that’s the case now because the Hawks made a six-year commitment to Crawford. That’s a lot of years and a good deal of cash under a hard salary cap for someone who’s just decent.
The third thing that hurts Crawford is actually many things, and they are named Toews, Kane, Duncan Keith, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya and maybe more.
Crawford isn’t as decorated as Toews, Kane or Keith, for example. They have international medals and NHL trophies, although Crawford deserved the Conn Smythe Trophy last year and Kane said as much. But playing behind so many world-class players makes Crawford the king of the Lucky Goalie Club in terms of national thought, and maybe some locals, as unfair or wrongly applied as that thought might be.
I remember talking to Ken Dryden when he was backstopping the Canadiens to that Bowman-coached dynasty in the 1970s. Dryden became a Hall-of-Fame goalie while playing behind Hall-of-Famers Guy Lafleur, Steve Shutt, Jacques Lemaire, Yvan Cournoyer, Bob Gainey, Serge Savard, Guy Lapointe and Larry Robinson, among others. On that team, Dryden said he expected to make about five tough saves a game. That’s it. Five. Crawford made that many in the second period of Game 6 alone.
I’m not saying Crawford is Dryden just yet. He might never be. But not all the great players in front of Crawford are playing that great right now.
As a whole, in fact, the Hawks have yet to play their best hockey on any consistent basis this postseason, and they will tell you that.
But yet, they’re in the conference finals. There have to be reasons for that, and the elite goalie is the biggest. Connect the dots, people.
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