Blackhawks

Blackhawks: Crawford silences critics with second Stanley Cup

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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.”

How Blackhawks plan to handle Corey Crawford's workload

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USA TODAY

How Blackhawks plan to handle Corey Crawford's workload

Corey Crawford is back and it didn't look like he skipped much of a beat. The Blackhawks were handed their first regulation loss of the season to the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday, but the 33-year-old netminder stopped 27 of 30 shots (.900 save percentage) in his season debut and made several timely saves to keep his team in it.

In the larger picture, it was a win based on how well Crawford looked between the pipes.

"Yeah, I think it is," coach Joel Quenneville said after practice on Friday. "It's one of things we were wondering, how he would handle post-game and how he came in today. Very encouraging signs. He felt good in all aspects of what he went through and dealt with, and practiced well today too, so that was good."

The first one is in the books.

But what's the plan going forward? Will Crawford be on a "pitch count" or will they treat him like they have in past seasons when he was healthy?

In the past, Crawford has generally started somewhere in between 55-58 games per season. Part of that has been because of injuries. Another part is the Blackhawks have had reliable backups, which allowed them to give Crawford an extra night off here and there to keep him fresh.

It's not unreasonable, though, to think Crawford could flirt with 50 starts, considering he missed only five games to start the season. And they can still accomplish that by playing it safe.

The Blackhawks have 13 more back-to-backs this season, which gives them the opportunity to start Cam Ward at some point in each of them. That leaves room for another 15 or so starts to sprinkle in for Ward that could serve as rest days for Crawford and still being on track to start around 50.

Obviously, the Blackhawks want to be careful with how much they ask of Crawford because concussions are tricky to deal with and every player responds differently to it.

His return comes at a time where the Blackhawks are slated to play seven games in 11 days after playing just two in the previous 10. Thursday marked the start of that stretch.

"He’ll tell us how he feels and we’ll go from there and make those decisions," Quenneville said.

The Blackhawks have been on record saying they prefer not to carry three goaltenders. But in this case it makes sense. At least in the short term.

Quenneville said Friday that the Blackhawks will reevaluate the situation at the end of the weekend following the beginning of a busy stretch where they'll play three games in four days.

"Yeah, that’s the mindset," he said. "Let’s see how we handle these three in four and then we’ll address it."

Crawford is expected to start on Saturday in Columbus, making it his second start in three days. That's when they'll get a better sense of how he's handling things.

If it were up to him, Crawford said he feels he's prepared for it.

"Yeah, sure," Crawford said. "Why not? I've been working hard with [strength and conditioning coach Paul Goodman]. He's got me where I need to be, so I'm in shape right now. Why not?"

Hawks Talk Podcast: Thoughts on Corey Crawford's season debut

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USA TODAY

Hawks Talk Podcast: Thoughts on Corey Crawford's season debut

In the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle, Jamal Mayers and Charlie Roumeliotis recap Corey Crawford’s season debut after missing nearly 10 months with a concussion.

Mayers talks about the Kitty system that Niklas Hjalmarsson and Vinnie Hinostroza probably dealt with in their returns to Chicago.

The guys also discuss what’s next for Crawford, the upcoming matchup against Artemi Panarin and the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the Blackhawks’ biggest areas for improvement.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below, and be sure to subscribe, rate us and write a review!