Catching Fire: Chicago’s Corey Crawford

How does a team overcome a 12 week injury prognosis to their star player, and still maintain a winning record? The glove hand and paddle of white hot goaltender Corey Crawford.

After Chicago Blackhawks Forward Patrick Kane went crashing to the boards, the collective hearts of every Blackhawk fan seemingly went right to their throats. Was this the end of the teams bid for another Stanley Cup Run? Would the team get into the playoffs and be bounced out in the first round? Or would one of the most criticized men in Chicago sports singlehandedly put the team on his back to the tune of a 4-0-1 record, while earning at least one point in every game he has been between the pipes?

Prior to Kane’s injury, the Blackhawks, and more notably their star goaltender, were in a funk. Having lost their last three games while being outscored 12 to 5, the Hawks were reeling and the calls for Crawford to be traded were at an all-time high. Taking that into account when looking at Kane’s injury, it is easy to see why Chicago skies were dark and gloomy.

The Needed Spark

Following the humiliating loss to Boston, Chicago sent Goalie Antti Raanta down to AHL Rockford. While this move seems innocent enough, the recalling of Scott Darling and his placement into the starting lineup caused quite a stir in the Windy City. Was this just a wakeup call for Crawford? Or was this a changing of the guard? We didn’t have to wait long for our answer.

After Darling led the Blackhawks to a 3-2 shootout victory over Florida (the game of Kane’s injury), Crawford was back in the crease for the road portion of the home and home with Florida.

While he wasn’t tested in the first period, only having 4 pucks coming his direction, Crawford showed the poise and confidence he once displayed during the Hawks Stanley Cup Run in 2013. In the second and third periods, Crawford saw a combined 16 shots and stopped every one of them, leading the Hawks to a 3-0 shutout victory. The next night, the Hawks would take on one of the top ranked offenses in the league, but it was not Crawford in net, instead it was the young rookie Darling.

Corey Crawford has been one of the best playoff goaltenders in the NHL over the past few seasons (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)
Corey Crawford has been one of the best playoff goaltenders in the NHL over the past few seasons (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

The Revitalization of Crawford

If Coach Quenneville was trying to send a message, Crawford got it loud and clear. In the Hawks next game against Carolina, the man they call Crow, stopped 25 of the 27 shots he faced leading the team to a 5-2 victory. In the game Crawford saw 10 shots in the 2nd period, 4 of which came with his team a man short, but wavered a bit in the 3rd, allowing two of the eleven shots he faced into the net. While he didn’t end strong, it was enough for Quenneville to go back to him, and this time Crow did not disappoint.

Edmonton was next on the schedule, and they made it a point to test Crawford early and often. The Oilers managed to score one goal on eighteen shots, but the damage could have been much worse. With his team only managing to score one goal, Crawford stood on his head in the 2nd and 3rd period keeping Edmonton at bay, while keeping Chicago afloat. In the overtime period, five shots came his way and the Stanley Cup Champion Goalie never faltered. 47 shots faced and a shootout looming, Crawford saved the best for last, stoning Derek Roy, Jordan Eberle, and Teddy Purcell. For Crawford his hard work was not wasted when Anotine Vermette went five hole on Ben Scriven to win the game on his attempt.

Two days later, Crawford was back at it, this time taking on the East’s best New York Rangers. In the 1st and 3rd period,s the Rangers peppered Crawford with a combined 30 shots (16 in the first, 14 in the third), and managed only one goal. This time though, an unfortunate defensive mistake allowed New York a perfect opportunity and Rangers Forward Derick Broussard took advantage, beating Crawford stick side 32 seconds into the overtime period. While the team lost, Crawford was able to earn his team a much needed point with his performance.

After seeing a combined 83 shots come his way in the previous two games, the 17 shots Arizona put on Crawford may have seemed pedestrian, but once again his team could only manage one goal through two and a half periods. With another potential over time period looming, the Hawks capitalized on a Coyote power play, taking a 2-1 lead on Brad Richards’ 900th career point, sealing another victory for their goaltender.

Kane’s injury may have been a low point, but Crawford’s 4-0-1 record, and a stellar 0.97 save percentage in his absence, have the Hawks hopes soaring again. As twitter user @cheertheanthem pointed out:

Corey Crawford’s play in the last two weeks is a big factor in that stat.