Blackhawks

Blackhawks: Crawford silences critics with second Stanley Cup

crawfordcritics061515.png

Blackhawks: Crawford silences critics with second Stanley Cup

All season long, Corey Crawford heard the critics. They got louder in the first round of the postseason after he temporarily lost his starting job to Scott Darling. His teammates heard it, too.

But it didn't matter to them or the Blackhawks netminder, who responded in the biggest way possible: by having one of the best stretches of his career to capture his second Stanley Cup in the last three years.

And that's all his teammates care about.

"We know who he is," winger Brandon Saad said of Crawford following a 2-0 series-clinching victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. "He's a big time player. He anchors our team and we love him. He's a great goalie and obviously the rings speak for themselves."

[MORE: Mission accomplished: Blackhawks bring home Stanley Cup]

Crawford acknowledged this year's postseason run "didn't start start like I wanted," but concluded that after regaining his net, "it just picked up from there."

But it wasn't smooth-sailing.

When the Blackhawks fell into a 2-1 series deficit to the Lightning, it was easy to point the finger at the goaltender. Crawford had allowed a combined seven goals in two straight games, which wasn't going to cut it against the NHL's best offensive team in the regular season.

The Blackhawks searched for answers, and when they needed their goaltender the most, he was there.

“We’re not here if it weren’t for guys like that who put their own ego aside time and time again," captain Jonathan Toews said. "He’s not out here to be loved by the fans. He sticks it out no matter what. There’s a couple of games where the media, the fans put everything on his back.

[RELATED: WATCH: Blackhawks' Crawford shuts down Stamkos on breakaway]

"He absorbs it and he keeps going and he bounces back."

Did he ever.

Crawford guided the Blackhawks to three consecutive victories in the last three games of the Stanley Cup Final by stopping 80 of 82 shots (.976 save percentage), good enough to sneak himself into the Conn Smythe Trophy consideration.

His 25-save shutout win in the series-clincher tied Tony Esposito for most career postseason wins (45) in franchise history, and did so in 24 fewer games. One more and he'll stand alone at the top of that list. 

[NBC SHOP: Buy a Corey Crawford jersey]

The most important one, though, came on Monday night.

As if his first Stanley Cup victory wasn't enough, Crawford's second one isn't providing much ammo to those that believed he couldn't do it again.

“He was awesome, he was unbelievable," forward Patrick Kane said. "Any word you can use to describe him. He was special. He’s one of those guys that nothing fazes him, nothing really bothers him. We’re lucky to have him.”

Blackhawks edge out Senators in shootout: 'It was really nice to get a win'

2-21_forsberg_usat.jpg
AP

Blackhawks edge out Senators in shootout: 'It was really nice to get a win'

It was a rare sight to see the Blackhawks in a shootout on Wednesday night.

It was just the second time this season — and first time at the United Center — that the Blackhawks made it past 3-on-3 overtime. 

The last came on Dec. 2, 2017, a 3-2 shootout loss to the Stars in Dallas. On Wednesday night, the Blackhawks were on the other end, beating the Ottawa Senators 3-2 in a seven-round shootout. Nick Schmaltz netted the game-winner.

"We'll take it," coach Joel Quenneville said. "I thought we had a decent game tonight. Overtime not so good, I liked the shootout victory, Fors made some big saves for us particularly as the game got deeper. Our third was OK, I thought our first two were way better, and overtime we gave up some high quality, some bells were rings for a bit there. But it was nice to see the shootout win."

Patrick Kane had a goal and an assist, recording another multi-point game, his 16th of the season.

"I mean we need every point we can get at this point," Kane said. "There's still belief in this locker room. Obviously we need to go on quite a run and have a big record here down the stretch. But take it a game at a time and nice to get two points."

Anton Forsberg was a big reason the Blackhawks even recorded those two points. The 25-year-old netminder stopped 34 of 36 shots and made a handful of big saves down the stretch.

"It was really nice to get a win for sure," Forsberg said. "I would love to have a lot more wins, but right now just gotta look forward and get as many wins as possible."

Added Quenneville: "I think it was good for him to win a game the way he did. Lot of shots were on the line, as we progressed, got deeper, hitting the point first was big for him and for us and then finding a way to get the extra one was a good win."

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

2-21_senators_matchup_nhl_chi_blank.jpg
NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Ottawa Senators tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Trade chips.

The Blackhawks have reached the point in their season where they have no choice but to become sellers before the Feb. 26 deadline, and we saw that when they traded Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals on Monday for a conditional third-round pick in 2018. Tommy Wingels could also be an attractive piece for a team looking to fill out their depth.

The Senators will definitely be sellers, and wow do they have some names potentially on the market that can fetch large returns: Derrick Brassard and Mike Hoffman are two players who log top-six minutes on a nightly basis and also have term left on their contract, which is great for teams looking to load up for this year and beyond.

The biggest name to watch, probably in the league altogether, is Erik Karlsson, who could be on the move if a team offers a big enough package for the Senators to pull the trigger now as opposed to in the offseason if they feel him re-signing is a long shot. He was the best defenseman last season, and if a team steps up to get him, they're getting two possible postseason runs out of him.

2. Artem Anisimov's experiment at left wing not working.

Joel Quenneville has tried rekindling the magic between Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane as of late, only this time Anisimov is playing the wing and it just hasn't been very effective. The trio was on the ice for each of the two 5-on-5 goals the Kings scored on Monday, and Anisimov completely lost his man on the first one.

It's important to establish a consistent left winger for Schmaltz and Kane, and maybe putting Alex DeBrincat up there is something you consider going forward as part of a long-term solution. Move Anisimov back down as the third-line center to play in more of a defensive role and continue using his big body on power plays for his offensive abilities might be the best bet.

3. Win the special teams battle.

In their last meeting against Ottawa on Jan. 9, the Blackhawks went 4-for-6 on the power play and 4-on-4 on the penalty kill in an 8-2 win. And those are two areas to look out for again.

The Senators own the 28th-ranked power play with a 16.1 percent success rate and 29th-ranked penalty kill with a 74.5 percent success rate. Get ready for another offensive outburst?