Corey Crawford just reminded us why he's such a special goalie in the Blackhawks' rare 2020 postseason opportunity.
After missing the vast majority of the Hawks' summer camp ahead of the NHL's 24-team postseason tournament quarantining after being diagnosed with COVID-19, the two-time Stanley Cup champ first found his game in the best-of-five play-in series vs. the Oilers.
The 35-year-old eased back into the net and by Game 4 he was back on top of his game, saving 43 of 45 Edmonton shots to help Chicago win their first postseason series since 2015's Stanley Cup Final over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
In the first round series against the stacked Vegas Golden Knights, Crawford was one the biggest reasons the Hawks were able to keep things close, losing three one-goal decisions, against a team that looks like it could win the Stanley Cup this year. In Game 4, the Blackhawks' lone victory of the series, Crawford played arguably the best game of his career, making 48 saves on 49 shots, for the 3-1 win before the Hawks were eliminated after Game 5's 4-3 loss in the contest, falling 4-1 in the series.
Crawford finished the 2020 postseason 4-5-0 with a 3.31 goals-against average and a .907 save percentage. Above all else, he proved that he's still capable of competing at a high level, and doing so as he's done before — while battling through an obstacle or less than ideal circumstances.
Despite impressive career numbers and achievements, where Corey has always stood out among other goalies is in his mental game and his ability to constantly battle back.
With the infamous lower-body injury and briefly losing the net to Scott Darling in 2015's playoffs; multiple concussions; sometimes letting in a soft goal or two then finishing strong; refusing to let 2019 Vezina Trophy finalist Robin Lehner run away with the starter job during the 2019-20 regular season; and most recently COVID, Crawford always battles and more often than not rises above to have an answer for the equation.
The goalie feels his ability to find his game after layoffs is grueling both mentally and physically, as easy as he's made it look in his career.
"Pretty frustrating staying out for long periods of time with injury, playing injured is tough," Crawford said during his last media availability of the year on Zoom Tuesday. "I mean, most guys are probably playing injured anyway throughout the playoffs, especially toward the end. It’s a different process. You don’t feel part of the team. You’re away from everyday stuff. Not really fun.
"It’s a challenge, too, because you’re not really in shape and you have to work hard and you have to go through that part to get in shape, then you’re not in shape when you’re on the ice. Being on the ice is a completely different routine and (different) workouts. Then you have to go through that (for) a couple of weeks. It’s definitely tough for guys who have been consistently injured or who have had long injuries. Once you’re back, you just want to play again. That’s the point I’m at right now."
It's that desire and ability to return to the norm and compete — as well as the role he's played in the Blackhawks' Golden Age, his relationship with teammates, and having a family in Chicago — that provides hope Corey and the Hawks will be able to work something out regarding his pending unrestricted free agent status.
During uncertain times, it doesn't sound like Crawford wants to stray from what's been a great fit for him.
"In Chicago right now, I don’t know where our cap is. We have a bunch of guys we need to sign. That’s something that we’ll discuss in our meetings with Stan. But definitely I’m leaning toward staying in Chicago and I want to win another championship and play a ton," Crawford said Tuesday. "I don’t want to play half the games and sit on the bench for stretches at a time. I think my value is just not as good doing that. I’m way more valuable playing games and playing consistently. It really depends on how much I’m going to be used. Salary, that can be discussed. That’s something that is not as important at this time. we’ll see how those discussions go. but staying in Chicago and trying to win again, that’s No. 1."