2017 Playoff Preview: Corey Crawford vs. Pekka Rinne
In all the series matchups this year, there may be few as intriguing as the one that will occur between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Nashville Predators.
The last time this happened, Corey Crawford lost his net to call-up Scott Darling – and the team has been working with that tandem ever since.
Pekka Rinne was also lukewarm in that series, ultimately dropping the first round in a six-game series with just two wins against the Blackhawks. While he outplayed Crawford to start, his team would fall in the end.
The Predators are looking for revenge, but so is Crawford.
After two well-above-average seasons behind the Blackhawks, Crawford put up an uncharacteristically poor season for himself this year.
That, of course, means that he sat slightly above league average, with a .917 save percentage in all situations rather than a .924, and boasted an 8.34 goals saved above average as opposed to a 15.27 like he did the two years prior.
Crawford has undergone a technical renaissance for the Blackhawks in the last handful of years.
He earned a reputation early in his tenure as a team starter as a goaltender who benefitted heavily from an elite system in front of him. Uniquely enough, he’s been the elite talent for the Blackhawks since 2014, masking increasingly struggling defensive corps that take a steep drop-off after their top pairing.
Often overlooked, Crawford always has something to prove. This year, he’ll attempt to do just that.
Few goaltenders in the NHL have quite as active of a glove hand as Pekka Rinne, and even fewer stay as upright and active as he does.
The lanky, statuesque netminder is playing in a race against time; he challenges shooters and relies on his reflexes to help him survive in a league of lightning-fast rebounds, but his age has started to catch up to him in recent years and show the holes in that style.
This year, those numbers have bounced back a bit – after finishing his 2015-16 campaign with a .908 save percentage in all situations and a high danger success rate of just .770 percent, Rinne sits right above league average this year with a .918 unadjusted.
It’s been a roller coaster year for Rinne, though. Where Crawford followed a traditional seasonal curve, peaking mid-season and dropping off at the end of his workload, Rinne’s numbers were all over the place. He lacked any kind of consistency from week to week – and in a seven-game series, that’s a huge risk for Nashville.
Of course, Nashville has this year’s Scott Darling. With a .923 save percentage in all situations through 21 appearances this year, heir apparent Juuse Saros seems like an excellent candidate to take over a save the series if the Predators need it.