Blackhawks

Refocused Corey Crawford continues to shut down opposition

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Refocused Corey Crawford continues to shut down opposition

Corey Crawford’s focus wasn’t where it needed to be earlier this season.

The Blackhawks goaltender started off well, giving the team a chance to win and recording back-to-back 1-0 shutouts at a time when the team’s offense was generating very little. Then Crawford started allowing goals, the quantity and lack-of quality ones that bring his critics out. Crawford was, as he later put it, “complacent.”

In his last six starts, however, Crawford has been anything but complacent. He’s been focused. He’s been steady. He’s been stingy. And he’s a big reason why the Blackhawks have been stringing more victories together lately.

Crawford recorded a 33-stop shutout, his third shutout in his past four starts, when the Blackhawks beat the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday night. It was another outstanding performance in a month full of them for Crawford.

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“It’s not bad. I’ll take it,” Crawford said with a smile when asked about his recent shutouts. “I’m just really playing game by game and… it’s just being focused the whole 60 minutes.”

In his last six games, which include five victories and three shutouts, Crawford has allowed just four goals. He allowed that many in one game against the Ottawa Senators on Dec. 3. It shows how Crawford has indeed put the focus back where it belongs. So is this his best stretch ever?

“This year, for sure,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “You look at every year, he’s had some amazing stretches and he just keeps doing it. But he’s very efficient [right now]. His movement, tracking of the puck, his quickness, anticipation, everything seems to be in order. It’s a real good stretch for him and for us.”

Crawford didn’t give any specifics of how he shook his complacency, other than just battling through it. The Blackhawks defense has been better lately, which certainly helps. Crawford has credited the team’s defense for getting a lot of pucks out of his way, eliminating those second-chance opportunities. But there have been games where Crawford’s still faced a lot of quality shots and he’s been the Blackhawks’ best defender.

[SHOP: Hey Blackhawks fans! Get your copy of the One Goal III book]

“He’s played a lot of good hockey ever since he took the starting job a few years ago. When he’s playing the way he is right now he gives that whole team confidence,” Duncan Keith said. “He keeps us in games if we’re not playing our best. And when he’s not getting a lot of work in certain games he’s there to make the save, too.”

Whatever caused Crawford to lose focus for a stretch, to be complacent, is gone. He’s been locked in lately, and he and the Blackhawks are reaping the results of his hot streak.

“I felt pretty good at the beginning of the year and then stuff started going in. It goes like that,” Crawford said. “You just try to eliminate the waves and try to have more good ones than bad ones, obviously.”

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: What else can the Blackhawks do this summer?

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: What else can the Blackhawks do this summer?

On the latest edition of the Hawks Talk Podcast, Charlie Roumeliotis is joined by Scott Powers of The Athletic to discuss Stan Bowman's comments following the Marian Hossa trade and debate whether they're finished making moves this summer.

They also provide their thoughts on the Blackhawks' top prospects and which players have caught their attention as development camp winds down.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews: 'Our No. 1 goal is getting back to the playoffs'

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews: 'Our No. 1 goal is getting back to the playoffs'

Jonathan Toews watched a lot of playoff hockey this spring. 

"Quite a bit," he admitted Wednesday before making his Chicago Pro Hockey League debut at MB Ice Arena. "More than usual."

That's because the Blackhawks missed out on the postseason for the first time since his rookie year in 2007-08. It's obviously not a position he'd like himself or his team to be in, especially after experiencing three Stanley Cups in a six-year span.

But you have to find a way to take the positives out of it at this point and let it fuel you for the upcoming campaign.

"You always want to be there playing," Toews said. "But when you can maybe step away from the game a little bit and just kind of breathe and — at the same time, look back and realize you’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of success. Obviously there’s no satisfaction there, but you understand it’s not the worst thing to stop and smell the roses and appreciate what you’ve been able to experience, because I think failing to get to the playoffs makes you realize how difficult it really is and maybe it’s something you took for granted.

"But watching more hockey this spring, I think, is something that was really motivating and kind of inspiring and exciting to want to get back to that level again. You dream of playing in the NHL, but at the end of the day, you want to play playoff hockey. That’s what it’s all about."

There were plenty of things that went wrong for the Blackhawks last season and contributed to why they watched the playoffs from home, whether it's the Corey Crawford injury, the down season from Brandon Saad, or the inexperience on the blue line.

For Toews, who turned 30 in April, it's about regaining that old form that made him one of the top players in the NHL and hoping it can filter down the rest of the Blackhawks lineup.

"For me, it’s part of just recapturing that energy, that motivation, excitement and that mindset of a young player who takes nothing for granted, that you had in your younger days," he said. "But also carrying the experience with you and understanding the impact of what you say, what you do, how you carry yourself can impact your teammates, especially the young guys. For me, it comes down to knowing what to say at the right time. But letting my play be the thing that helps me lead by example. No better time than now to use that experience and that excitement trying to rebound off the season we had last year."

If there's any reason to have belief that the Blackhawks can turn it around quickly, look no further than the two teams that collided in the Stanley Cup Final: Vegas and Washington. 

The Golden Knights had the longest odds to win it all at the beginning of the season while the Capitals' championship window was perceived to be closed after they failed to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2017 in the second round yet again with a loaded roster. But it's not about what's on paper.

"Watching that last series, you just knew it came down to who had the most, the deepest belief in themselves," Toews said. "I even had a hard time predicting who was going to win every series. It could’ve gone either way in a lot of situations. It’s not only motivating, seeing how fast that play was and to have missed out on playoff hockey this year and to have the drive to get back there, but knowing if you do sneak into the playoffs it doesn’t matter. You can go a long way.

"For us, thinking, 'OK, we're gonna back and win a Stanley Cup this year,' it sounds like a long shot. But as always, our No. 1 goal is getting back to the playoffs and being ready to hit our stride when we get there."