Crawford Backstops Chicago to Stanley Cup
For Corey Crawford, the questions never seemed to stop.
Even two wins from a Stanley Cup, the doubters were lurking, wondering aloud, as they had for most of a long career spent mostly in the minor leagues, whether Crawford was good enough to backstop the Chicago Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup.
The second-guessing may never stop.
The difference is now Crawford, who has always handled the endless questions with class and ease, saying the right things on camera and then working even harder off it to improve whatever critique had been levelled, has an answer no one can ever take away from him.
Crawford can simply point to his name on the Stanley Cup.
“I got a question the other day which kind of was surprising: ‘Who’s going to play your next game?’,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said after Monday’s Cup-clinching win. “It was obvious who’s playing our next game because he was the reason we were playing the next game. The scrutiny that he was under at the end of last year going into the season, if he was capable of getting through the regular season, let alone the playoffs. His preparation going into the year was in the right place. I thought his consistency was great.”
Crawford finished with just seven losses in his Cup run, finishing with a League-leading 1.84 goals-against average and .932 save percentage that included a 51-save performance in the Blackhawks’ triple-overtime win in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Crawford, who watched Antti Niemi hoist Chicago’s last Cup in 2010 from the stands as the Blackhawks’ black ace and third-string practice goalie, has never stopped working to get better, whether through five full seasons in the American Hockey League or his first two as an NHL starter, tinkering with positioning and tactics with goaltending coach Stephane Waite the last two years.
With so much of the focus on Crawford’s glove hand in the Stanley Cup Final, it was easy to miss the other areas he’d improved his game.
There was the addition of the Reverse, or Reverse-VH, against dead angle attacks from the goal line and below in place of an overuse of traditional VH, or one-pad down, in the past. The new technique looked a little sloppy when he failed to seal the post and gave up a sharp angle overtime winner against the Minnesota Wild in the opening round, but was smooth by the Cup Final and a critical part of the Game 6 clincher, with several seamless applications on dangerous opportunities that could have otherwise led to goals.
There was the depth adjustment, which started last season after Crawford, seemingly eager to prove to those who wondered aloud whether he had the athleticism necessary to be a No.1, got caught chasing the play too often rather than letting it come to him. Waite, whose name has already been linked to the vacant goaltending coach position in his hometown of Montreal, showed him footage of Henrik Lundqvist and they agreed to a more conservative initial approach, one that Crawford would later add depth to as he found that comfort zone between utilizing his positioning and size efficiently and showing off the ability to scramble – and it was always there, just ask the Vancouver Canucks, who were nearly victimized by it in 2011 – only when needed.
The result was a Presidents’ Trophy for the Blackhawks as the NHL’s top regular season team, and a William M. Jennings Trophy for the fewest goals against that is shared between Crawford and playing partner Ray Emery, whose own hoisting of the Cup just three years after radical career-saving surgery to remove a bone in his lower leg and using it to save his hip, is an incredible story of perseverance.
There was also Crawford’s improved puck handling – and an increase in how often he did it – that played a role in turning around the Detroit series. There was always something to try and get just a little bit better.
“I’m always making adjustments – little adjustments,” Crawford has told InGoal more than once.
Don’t be surprised if there are more adjustments to a glove hand that has already been tinkered with in terms of where he holds it.
Despite using that same hand to hoist the Cup over his head Monday night, the breakdown of Crawford’s tendencies on the glove side and one and the way Boston took advantage of them the first four games remain accurate and valid, just as becoming the first Canadian goalie to win it all since Marc-Andre Fleury in 2009 does not mean Hockey Canada should abandon it’s plans for a much-needed national goaltending development program. There are no perfect goalies. Crawford just keeps working to remove any flaws.
Between the pipes, there may always be something to improve. With those long, straight pads that he prefers because of the puck-trapping triangle they form in front of his butterfly, he may never be the smoothest looking goalie in the NHL, even if his movements were often silky throughout these playoffs. But between the ears, Crawford has already proven he is among the best.
The 28-year-old has demonstrated an ability to drown out any the doubters, whether coming into this season after an admittedly poor playoff in a first-round exit against Phoenix the year before; bouncing back from a couple of blips during this post-season run, including a questionable goal in the opener against the Wild; or more pointedly about his glove during the Stanley Cup Final, and quickly refocus on what Crawford himself said several times is the most important part of goaltending: the next save.
There may yet be more questions in his future – just ask Fleury – but now Crawford has an answer and a title that no one can ever take away from him: Stanley Cup Champion.