CHICAGO – Corey Crawford headed into the playoffs as a question mark.
By now, the Blackhawks goaltender has transformed into an exclamation mark.
The final outcome will be anybody’s guess when the Hawks visit the Boston Bruins on Monday for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final. The Hawks and Bruins split the first two games of the series, which included four overtimes, while scoring five goals apiece.
Far more certain is the reliability that Crawford will provide the Hawks in net.
An overtime win against the Bruins in Game 1 solidified Crawford’s status as the favorite to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs MVP if the Hawks clinch the Stanley Cup. And while Crawford allowed the overtime goal in Game 2 that evened the series, the Hawks’ message was clear afterward regarding the play of their goaltender.
Without Crawford, the Hawks would not have had a chance to win in the first place.
“He was great,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville told reporters after Saturday’s overtime loss. “He kept us in there. They had some great looks in overtime around the net. [He] stands tall finding that puck. Gives us a chance.”
He’ll keep giving the Hawks a chance in what is shaping up to be a memorable series.
In 19 playoff games, Crawford is 13-6 with a 1.72 goals-against average and a sterling .935 save percentage. He has given up more than three goals only once – Game 2 against Detroit – and he has limited opponents to two goals or fewer in 13 of his 19 playoff starts.
Crawford will be the first to admit that his statistics also speak to the defensive performance of his teammates, who sacrifice their bodies to block shots at such a rate that hockey outsiders might question their sanity. And while it’s true that the Hawks’ defensemen make Crawford’s job easier, it’s also true that Crawford has made his teammates’ job easier on offense.
Consider the following.
When the Hawks have scored at least three goals during the postseason, they have won 10 games and lost zero. When they have scored at least two goals, they are 13-1.
That’s not too much to ask.
A team loaded with star players such as Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp should be able to muster a pair of goals a game. Then again, the Bruins have proved that they play excellent team defense in addition to having a standout goaltender in Finnish phenom Tuukka Rask.
As the Hawks re-learned Saturday in Game 2, one goal is not going to be enough. They’re 0-5 when scoring one or fewer goals in the playoffs.
It seems that everyone has taken notice of Crawford’s stellar postseason, including a horde of national media members who have packed the Hawks’ locker room in recent weeks. Many have bobbed from player to player, asking a similar question about Crawford.
Why has the Hawks’ goaltender been overlooked?
“You tell me,” said Toews, who has consistently praised Crawford during the past few years. “I think we all know in this locker room how good Corey Crawford is.”
So good that he has been mentioned as a goaltender for Team Canada in the 2014 Olympics.
That’s a big deal. Canada is to hockey what Illinois is to imprisoned governors.
“I’m happy people are asking the [Olympics] question all week, because I certainly think he deserves it,” Toews said. “I feel like to get to that level, you need to have some sort of name in the media and have people know who you are.
“If they didn’t really before, I think everyone knows who Corey Crawford is now.”
• Shaw Media sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @tcmusick.