From Comcast SportsNetST. LOUIS (AP) -- No last name necessary.A slew of batting titles. Corkscrew stance. Humble. A gentleman. All-around good guy.Stan the Man.Stanley Frank Musial, the St. Louis Cardinals star who was one of the greatest players in the history of baseball, died Saturday. He was 92."I never heard anybody say a bad word about him -- ever," Willie Mays said in a statement released by the Hall of Fame.The Cardinals announced Musial's death in a news release and said he died at his home in Ladue, a St. Louis suburb, surrounded by family. The team said Musial's son-in-law, Dave Edmonds, informed the club of the slugger's death.Earlier Saturday, baseball lost another Hall of Famer when longtime Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver died at age 82.Musial, the Midwest icon with too many batting records to fit on his Hall of Fame plaque, was so revered in St. Louis that two statues in his honor stand outside Busch Stadium -- one just wouldn't do him justice. He was one of baseball's greatest hitters, every bit the equal of Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio even without the bright lights of the big city.Musial won seven National League batting crowns, was a three-time MVP and helped the Cardinals capture three World Series championships in the 1940s.He spent his entire 22-year career with the Cardinals and made the All-Star team 24 times -- baseball held two All-Star games each summer for a few seasons. He had been the longest-tenured living Hall of Famer."Stan will be remembered in baseball annals as one of the pillars of our game," Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson said. "The mold broke with Stan. There will never be another like him."A pitcher in the low minors until he injured his arm, Musial turned to playing the outfield and first base. It was a stroke of luck for him, as he went on to hit .331 with 475 home runs before retiring in 1963.Widely considered the greatest Cardinals player ever, Musial was the first person in team history to have his number retired. Ol' 6 probably was the most popular, too, especially after Albert Pujols skipped town."I will cherish my friendship with Stan for as long as I live," Pujols wrote on Twitter. "Rest in Peace."At the suggestion of a pal, actor John Wayne, Musial carried around autographed cards of himself to give away. He enjoyed doing magic tricks for kids and was fond of pulling out a harmonica to entertain crowds with a favorite, "The Wabash Cannonball."Scandal-free and eager to play every day, Musial struck a chord with fans throughout America's heartland and beyond. For much of his career, St. Louis was the most western outpost in the majors, and the Cardinals' vast radio network spread word about him in all directions.Farmers in the field and families on the porch would tune in, as did a future president -- Bill Clinton recalled doing his homework listening to Musial's exploits."We have lost the most beloved member of the Cardinals family," team chairman William DeWitt Jr. said.Musial's public appearances dwindled in recent years, though he took part in the pregame festivities at Busch Stadium during the 2011 postseason as the Cardinals won the World Series. And he was at the White House in February 2011 when President Barack Obama presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor for contributions to society.At the ceremony, President Obama said: "Stan remains to this day an icon untarnished, a beloved pillar of the community, a gentleman you'd want your kids to emulate."He certainly delivered at the plate.Musial never struck out 50 times in a season. He led the NL in most every hitting category for at least one year, except homers. He hit a career-high 39 home runs in 1948, falling one short of winning the Triple Crown."Major League Baseball has lost one of its true legends in Stan Musial, a Hall of Famer in every sense and a man who led a great American life. He was the heart and soul of the historic St. Louis Cardinals franchise for generations," Commissioner Bud Selig said. "As remarkable as Stan the Man' was on the field, he was a true gentleman in life. All of Major League Baseball mourns his passing."In all, Musial held 55 records when he retired in 1963. Fittingly, the accolades on his bronze Hall plaque start off with this fact, rather than flowery prose: "Holds many National League records ..."He played nearly until his 43rd birthday, adding to his totals. He got a hit with his final swing, sending an RBI single past Cincinnati's rookie second baseman -- that was Pete Rose, who would break Musial's league hit record of 3,630 some 18 years later.Of those hits, Musial got exactly 1,815 at home and exactly 1,815 on the road. He also finished with 1,951 RBIs and scored 1,949 runs.All that balance despite a most unorthodox left-handed stance. Legs and knees close together, he would cock the bat near his ear and twist his body away from the pitcher. When the ball came, he uncoiled.Unusual, that aspect of Musial.Asked to describe the habits that kept him in baseball for so long, Musial once said: "Get eight hours of sleep regularly. Keep your weight down, run a mile a day. If you must smoke, try light cigars. They cut down on inhaling."One last thing, he said: "Make it a point to bat .300."As for how he did that, Musial offered a secret."I consciously memorized the speed at which every pitcher in the league threw his fastball, curve, and slider," he said. "Then, I'd pick up the speed of the ball in the first 30 feet of its flight and knew how it would move once it has crossed the plate."It worked pretty well, considering Musial began his baseball career as a pitcher in the low minors. And by his account, as he said during his induction speech in Cooperstown, an injury had left him as a "dead, left-handed pitcher just out of Class D."Hoping to still reach the majors, he turned to another position. It was just the change he needed.Musial made his major league debut late in 1941, the season that Williams batted .406 for the Boston Red Sox and DiMaggio hit in a record 56 straight games for the New York Yankees.Musial never expressed regret or remorse that he didn't attract more attention than the cool DiMaggio or prickly Williams. Fact is, Musial was plenty familiar in every place he played.Few could bring themselves to boo baseball's nicest superstar, not even the Brooklyn Dodgers crowds that helped give him his nickname, a sign of weary respect for his .359 batting average at Ebbets Field.Many, many years before any sports fans yelled "You're the man!" at their favorite athletes, Stan was indeed the Man.Dodgers pitcher Preacher Roe once joked about how to handle Musial: "I throw him four wide ones and then I try to pick him off first base."Brooklynites had another reason to think well of Musial: Unlike Enos Slaughter and other Cardinals teammates, he was supportive when the Dodgers' Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier in 1947. Bob Gibson, who started out with the Cardinals in the late 1950s, would recall how Musial had helped establish a warm atmosphere between blacks and whites on the team."I knew Stan very well," Mays said. "He used to take care of me at All-Star games, 24 of them. He was a true gentleman who understood the race thing and did all he could."Like DiMaggio and Williams, Musial embodied a time when the greats stayed with one team. He joined the Cardinals during the last remnants of the Gas House Gang and stayed in St. Louis until Gibson and Curt Flood ushered in a new era of greatness."Sad to hear about Stan the Man, it's an honor to wear the same uniform," current Cardinals slugger Matt Holliday tweeted.The only year Musial missed with the Cardinals was 1945, when he was in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He was based in Pearl Harbor, assigned to a unit that helped with ship repair.Before and after his military service, he was a star hitter."St. Louis has been lucky to have a player like Stan Musial. He will always be Mr. Baseball," Hall of Fame Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog said. "It's a very big loss. You can go around the world and you'll never find a better human being than Stan Musial."Musial was the NL MVP in 1943, 1946 and 1948, and was runner-up four other years. He enjoyed a career remarkably free of slumps, controversies or rivalries."Stan was a favorite in Cooperstown, from his harmonica rendition of Take Me Out to the Ball Game' during Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies, to the reverence he commanded among other Hall of Fame members and all fans of the game. More than just a baseball hero, Stan was an American icon and we will very much miss him in Cooperstown," Hall of Fame chairman Jane Forbes Clark said.The Cardinals were dominant early in Musial's career. They beat DiMaggio and the Yankees in the 1942 World Series, lost to the Yankees the next year and defeated the St. Louis Browns in 1944. In 1946, the Cardinals beat Williams and the visiting Red Sox in Game 7 at Sportsman's Park.Musial, mostly a left fielder then, starred with Terry Moore in center and Slaughter, another future Hall of Famer, in right, making up one of baseball's greatest outfields. Later on, Musial would switch between the outfield and first base.Musial never played on another pennant winner after 1946. Yet even after the likes of Mays, Mickey Mantle and Hank Aaron came to the majors, Musial remained among baseball's best.The original Musial statue outside the new Busch Stadium is a popular meeting place before games and carries this inscription: "Here stands baseball's perfect warrior. Here stands baseball's perfect knight.""Everybody's a Musial fan," Herzog once said.Musial gave the press little to write about beyond his grace and greatness on the field. He didn't date movie stars, spike opponents or chew out reporters or umpires.In 1958, he reached the 3,000-hit level and became the NL's first 100,000-a-year player. Years earlier, he had turned down a huge offer to join the short-lived Mexican League. He never showed resentment over the multimillion dollar salaries of modern players. He thought they had more fun in his days."I enjoyed coming to the ballpark every day and I think we enjoyed the game," Musial said in a 1991 Associated Press interview. "We had a lot of train travel, so we had more time together. We socialized quite a bit and we'd go out after ballgames."He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1969, his first year of eligibility."It was, you know, a dream come true," Musial once said. "I always wanted to be a ballplayer."After retiring as a player, Musial served for years in the Cardinals' front office, including as general manager in 1967, when the Cardinals won the World Series.In the 1970s, he occasionally played in Old-Timers' Day games and could still line the ball to the wall. He was a fixture for decades at the Cooperstown induction ceremonies and also was a member of the Hall's Veterans Committee. Often, after the Vets panel had voted, he'd pull out a harmonica conveniently located in his jacket pocket and lead the other members in a rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."Into the 2000s, Musial would spend time with the Cardinals at spring training, thrilling veterans and rookies alike with his stories.Ever ready, he performed the national anthem on his harmonica at least one opening day at Busch Stadium. Musial learned his music during overnight train trips in the 1940s and in the 1990s was a member of a trio known as "Geriatric Jazz" and collaborated on a harmonica instructional book.Stanley Frank Musial was born in Donora, Pa., on Nov. 21, 1920, son of a Polish immigrant steelworker. He began his minor league career straight out of high school, in June 1938, and soon after married high school sweetheart Lillian Labash, with whom he had four children.Musial fell in 1940 while trying to make a tough catch and hurt his left arm, damaging his pitching prospects. Encouraged by minor league manager Dickie Kerr to try playing the outfield, he did so well in 1941 that the Cardinals moved him up to the majors in mid-September -- and he racked up a .426 average during the final weeks of the season.In his best year, 1948, he had four five-hit games and batted .376, best in the National League. He also led his league that year in runs scored (135), hits (230), total bases (429), doubles (46), and triples (18).In 1954, he set a major league record with five home runs in a doubleheader against the New York Giants. He hit .300 or better in 16 consecutive seasons and hit a record six home runs in All-Star play, including a 12th-inning, game-winning shot in 1955.In 1962, at age 41, he batted .330 and hit 19 home runs. In his final game, on Sept. 29, 1963, he had two hits at Busch Stadium against the Reds and the Cardinals retired his uniform number.He was active in business, too. He served as a director of the St. Louis-based Southwest Bank. He was co-owner of a popular St. Louis steakhouse, "Stan Musial and Biggie's," and a bowling alley with former teammate Joe Garagiola (leading to a bitter fallout that eventually got resolved). He later ran Stan the Man Inc., specializing in merchandise he autographed. Musial was known for handing out folded 1 bills.A prominent Polish-American, he was a charter member of the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame and was warmly regarded by his ancestral country, which in 2000 dedicated Stan Musial Stadium in Kutno, Poland. Musial also was involved politically, campaigning for John F. Kennedy in 1960 and serving as Lyndon Johnson's director of the President's Council on Physical Fitness.Musial's versatility was immortalized in verse, by popular poet of the times Ogden Nash, who in "The Tycoon" wrote of the Cardinals star and entrepreneur:"And, between the slugging and the greeting,To the bank for a directors' meeting.Yet no one grudges success to Stan,Good citizen and family man,Though I would love to have his jobOne half tycoon, one half Ty Cobb."The Cardinals said Musial is survived by his four children, Richard, Gerry, Janet and Jean, as well as 11 grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren.Musial's wife died in May 2012.Funeral arrangements had not yet been finalized, the Cardinals said. The team set up a memorial site around one of Musial's statues at Busch Stadium.Earl Weaver dies at 82BALTIMORE (AP) -- Earl Weaver always was up for an argument, especially with an umpire.At the slightest provocation, the Earl of Baltimore would spin his hat back, point his finger squarely at an ump's chest and then fire away. The Hall of Fame manager would even tangle with his own players, if necessary.All this from a 5-foot-6 pepperpot who hated to be doubted.Although reviled by some, Weaver was beloved in Baltimore and remained an Oriole to the end.The notoriously feisty Hall of Fame manager died at age 82 on a Caribbean cruise associated with the Orioles, his marketing agent said Saturday."Earl was a black and white manager," former O's ace and Hall of Fame member Jim Palmer said. "He kind of told you what your job description was going to be and kind of basically told you if you wanted to play on the Orioles, this was what you needed to do. And if you couldn't do it, I'll get someone else. I know that's kind of tough love, but I don't think anyone other than Marianna, his wife, would describe Earl as a warm and fuzzy guy."Baseball lost another Hall of Famer later Saturday when longtime St. Louis Cardinals star Stan Musial died at age 92.Weaver took the Orioles to the World Series four times over 17 seasons but won only one title, in 1970. His .583 winning percentage ranks fifth among managers who served 10 or more seasons in the 20th century.Dick Gordon said Weaver's wife told him that Weaver went back to his cabin after dinner and began choking between 10:30 and 11 Friday night. Gordon said a cause of death has not been determined."It's a sad day. Earl was a terrific manager," Orioles vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said. "The simplicity and clarity of his leadership and his passion for baseball was unmatched. He's a treasure for the Orioles. He leaves a terrific legacy of winning baseball with the Orioles and we're so grateful for his contribution. He has a legacy that will live on."Weaver will forever remain a part of Camden Yards. A statue of him was dedicated last summer in the stadium's flag court, along with the rest of the team's Hall of Fame members."Earl Weaver stands alone as the greatest manager in the history of the Orioles organization and one of the greatest in the history of baseball," Orioles owner Peter Angelos said. "This is a sad day for everyone who knew him and for all Orioles fans. Earl made his passion for the Orioles known both on and off the field. On behalf of the Orioles, I extend my condolences to his wife, Marianna, and to his family."Weaver was a salty-tongued manager who preferred to wait for a three-run homer rather than manufacture a run with a stolen base or a bunt. While some baseball purists argued that strategy, no one could dispute the results."Earl was well known for being one of the game's most colorful characters with a memorable wit, but he was also amongst its most loyal," Commissioner Bud Selig said. "On behalf of Major League Baseball, I send my deepest condolences to his wife, Marianna, their family and all Orioles fans."Weaver had a reputation as a winner, but umpires knew him as a hothead. Weaver would often turn his hat backward and yell directly into an umpire's face to argue a call or a rule, and after the inevitable ejection he would more often than not kick dirt on home plate or on the umpire's shoes.Orioles programs sold at the old Memorial Stadium frequently featured photos of Weaver squabbling.He was ejected 91 times, including once in both games of a doubleheader.Asked once if his reputation might have harmed his chances to gain entry into the Hall of Fame, Weaver admitted, "It probably hurt me."Not for long. He entered the Hall in 1996."When you discuss our game's motivational masters, Earl is a part of that conversation," Baseball Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson said. "He was a proven leader in the dugout and loved being a Hall of Famer. Though small in stature, he was a giant as a manager."His ejections were overshadowed by his five 100-win seasons, six AL East titles and four pennants. Weaver was inducted 10 years after he managed his final game with Baltimore at the end of an ill-advised comeback.In 1985, the Orioles' owner at the time, Edward B. Williams, coaxed Weaver away from golf to take over a struggling squad. Weaver donned his uniform No. 4, which had already been retired by the team, and tried to breathe some life into the listless Orioles.Baltimore went 53-52 over the last half of the 1985 season, but finished seventh in 1986 with a 73-89 record. It was Weaver's only losing season as a major-league manager, and he retired for good after that."If I hadn't come back," Weaver said after his final game, "I would be home thinking what it would have been like to manage again. I found out it's work."Former umpire Don Denkinger said he called one of Weaver's last games in the majors."He comes to home plate before the game and says, Gentlemen, I'm done.' He told us the only way he'd ever come back is if he ran out of money," Denkinger told The Associated Press by phone from Arizona. "I told him that if he ever ran out of money to call the umpires' association and we'd take up a collection for him. We'd do anything, just to keep him off the field and away from us."Weaver finished with a 1,480-1,060 record. He won Manager of the Year three times."I had a successful career, not necessarily a Hall of Fame career, but a successful one," he said.Weaver came to the Orioles as a first base coach in 1968, took over as manager on July 11 and went on to become the winningest manager in the history of the franchise."Earl was such a big part of Orioles baseball and personally he was a very important part of my life and career and a great friend to our family," Hall of Fame shortstop Cal Ripken said. "His passion for the game and the fire with which he managed will always be remembered by baseball fans everywhere and certainly by all of us who had the great opportunity to play for him. Earl will be missed but he can't and won't be forgotten."He knew almost everything about the game. He was also a great judge of human character, and that's one of the main reasons why he was loved by a vast majority of his players even though he often rode them mercilessly from spring training into October."Did we have a love-hate relationship? Yes," Palmer said at Saturday's event. "Did he shake my hand after I would win? No. Because he didn't want to be my best friend. At the time maybe I resented that. But I've gotten over it."Pat Dobson, who died in 2006, pitched two seasons under Weaver."Certainly, the years I played for him were the two most enjoyable years I've had," he said.During games Weaver smoked cigarettes in the tunnel leading to the dugout and he never kicked the habit. He suffered a mild heart attack in August 1998, and the Orioles' manager at the time, Ray Miller, wondered aloud how his mentor was holding up."I wouldn't want to talk to him if he hasn't had a cigarette in 10 days," Miller joked. "They've probably got him tied to a chair."Umpires found out just how demonstrative Weaver could be. Denkinger remembered a game in which the manager disputed a call with Larry McCoy at the plate."Earl tells us, Now I'm gonna show you how stupid you all are.' Earl goes down to first base and ejects the first base umpire. Then he goes to second base and ejects the second base umpire. I'm working third base and now he comes down and ejects me," Denkinger said.Much later, after they were retired, the umpire asked Weaver to sign a photo of that episode."He said absolutely. I sent it to him, he signed it and said some really nice things. It's framed and hanging up in my office back home in Iowa," Denkinger said.Weaver was a brilliant manager, but he never made it to the majors as a player. He finally quit after spending 13 years as a second baseman in the St. Louis organization."He talked about how he could drive in 100 runs a year, score 100 runs and never make an error," said Davey Johnson, who played under Weaver in the minor leagues and with the Orioles from 1965-72. "He said he never got to the big leagues because the Cardinals had too many good players in front of him."He still made his mark on the big leagues."No one managed a ballclub or pitching staff better than Earl," said Johnson, who manages the Washington Nationals, and ran the Orioles from 1996-97. "He was decades ahead of his time. Not a game goes by that I don't draw on something Earl did or said. I will miss him every day."
This AL Central race is going to be fun.
It looked like the Minnesota Twins might have blitzed right past the White Sox in the season’s first weekend, issuing a 14-2 clubbing on their way out of Chicago in the decisive third game of that series. The White Sox went on to Northeast Ohio and dropped the first two of that three-game set against the Cleveland Indians, and a 1-4 start threw some chilly Great Lakes water on the preseason thought of the South Siders running with the class of the division in this season’s 60-game sprint to October.
But the White Sox turned their 1-4 start around with a six-game win streak. And after a 2-0 nail-biter of a win over the Indians on Friday night that reshuffled the standings, the Pale Hose have now won their last five games against division foes, including a pair against these Clevelanders.
The intensity’s been there all week. After a sweep of the Kansas City Royals, the first three of the White Sox four games against the Milwaukee Brewers had a distinct playoff-style feel to them, well pitched, closely decided contests that struck as the most intense games the White Sox have played in years.
Be it the compressed nature of this season’s schedule or the fact that these White Sox are finally equipped to compete for a division title, this is unlike anything that’s graced the South Side in some time.
“We're treating every game like a must-win,” White Sox starting pitcher Dylan Cease said Friday night. “These games definitely don't have the same feeling as Game 15 of a 162-game season. We're coming to the ballpark to win every day."
When it comes to the Twins, atop the Central standings with 10 wins — one of only two major league squads to hit double digits to this point, even with back-to-back defeats at the hands of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Royals — it seems the White Sox will have to win a few more home run derbies the likes of which we saw in that opening weekend.
But runs have been somewhat scarce for the White Sox after they scored a combined 20 runs and banged out a total of 35 hits in winning the final two games of that series last weekend in Kansas City. They’ve scored just eight times in their last four games combined. There’s more than one way to win a game, of course, and as injuries continue to make the White Sox dugout look like the Tune Squad bench late in that game against the Monstars, the South Siders have figured out a few others besides blowing up the scoreboard.
Friday night’s playoff feel brought the Indians’ sensational pitching staff to Guaranteed Rate Field, and Aaron Civale was just about as good as he was against the White Sox last week in Cleveland. He didn’t pile up the strikeouts this time, but he still pitched seven innings of one-run ball, the lone run he gave up coming home on a first-inning double-play grounder.
Cease, somewhat miraculously, countered with five shutout innings of his own despite putting nearly the entire city of Cleveland on base. He walked five guys, including issuing four leadoff walks, hit another and allowed a couple of hits. Thankfully for Cease and the White Sox, though, he also came up with multiple clutch, inning-ending double-play balls, and the defense was excellent behind him and a trio of relievers, the first two of which had as much trouble keeping the bases clear as Cease did.
You want playoff-style drama? Scatter the bases with potential runs every inning and watch the pitchers dance their way out of one jam after another.
That’s not going to fly on a regular basis, obviously, but it sure made for some heart-pounding baseball, which is — as anyone who was pulling double duty with playoff hockey Friday night knows — fun.
“I can't expect those kinds of results if I'm going to have that many base runners all the time,” Cease said. “Fortunately, we were able to get out of here with a 'W,' but it's not something that's going to be sustainable. So I have to do a better job of getting ahead and not doing that.”
The onslaught of high-caliber Cleveland pitching continues the rest of the weekend, and who knows if the White Sox will be able to solve it as they barely did Friday. Zach Plesac, who stymied the White Sox with 11 strikeouts in eight shutout innings last week, is up Saturday. Then it’s a heck of a pitching matchup Sunday, with Lucas Giolito facing off against current AL Cy Young front-runner Shane Bieber, who’s struck out 35 hitters in his first three starts of the season.
That game ought to be another dandy, and with a frequently showcased rivalry between the Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals waved off this weekend, the White Sox will step into the nationally televised spotlight Sunday night, the perfect spot for such a pitching matchup and a division race that’s heating up like this one is. The White Sox swapped spots with the Indians on Friday, into second place and two games back of the Twins. The Indians are just two and a half games behind the division leaders.
“Both of those teams are very good clubs,” White Sox outfielder Adam Engel said of the Twins and Indians. “Two totally different makeups, they win games differently. We have a pretty balanced attack ourselves. It’s fun playing good baseball against good teams.
“The Indians, it seems like every time they come to town or we go to Cleveland, we are facing some pretty good arms. Makes it fun. You just have to stay disciplined, stay really focused in your work. It always feels like you’re going to be part of a good baseball game.
“Those are two tough teams, and hopefully we can keep playing them well.”
Obviously, everything’s felt different this season. There are no fans in the stands, COVID-19 is constantly threatening the completion of the campaign, and a brief ramp up to Opening Day has made for a high number of injuries across the league.
But there’s a different feeling on the South Side, too, for much more positive reasons. This team has been talking about its high expectations for months, and they’ve got a roster that looks capable of living up to them. While an expanded playoff field gives the White Sox a pretty good chance of reaching the postseason, they’ve still got their eyes on the biggest prizes, and the first one of those is the Central crown.
They’ve played just 14 games. But it sure feels like a pennant race.
“I don’t remember ever really watching scoreboards so closely as a team through the first couple of weeks in the season,” Engel said. “We come in off the field and we want to see what’s going on around the league, or we’re announcing what scores are postgame for different teams. You control what you can control, and you want to win as many games as you can. But we’re all keeping our eyes on the scoreboard, and I’m sure it’s like that league-wide.
“Everybody kind of feels like they’re in it right now, and 60 games, this is going to be a heck of a season. I’m excited that we’re playing good baseball right now. Hopefully we can keep it going.”
The biggest storyline of Blackhawks training camp 2.0 was Corey Crawford missing the first 12 days because he had tested positive for COVID-19. He showed up on the final practice day in Chicago, which was exactly one week from the start of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers against the Edmonton Oilers.
The Blackhawks did everything they could to get him ready for Game 1, but you knew it would take him a while to get back into top form. And it has.
In the first three games against the Oilers, Crawford allowed 13 goals on 92 shots for a save percentage of .859 and had a minus-5.68 goals saved above average, according to Natural Stat Trick, which ranked dead last among all goaltenders.
But when the Blackhawks needed him most in Game 4, Crawford delivered.
The two-time Stanley Cup champion turned aside 41 of 43 shots for a save percentage of .953 in Friday’s 3-2 series-clinching win against the Oilers, including all 18 in the third period, a handful of which came from high-danger areas.
"He's a huge part of our team and he played real well today," Dominik Kubalik said. "I thought he was our best player."
To take it a step further: Crawford stopped 16 of 18 shots from the slot and had nine saves from the inner slot, which is the third-most in a game by any goaltender this postseason, according to Sportlogiq. The Oilers had an expected goals for rate of 4.33 but scored only twice, which means Crawford saved the Blackhawks 2.33 goals.
It was a vintage performance between the pipes for No. 50.
"Obviously it wasn't the best scenario," Crawford said of having just one week to get ramped up for the qualifying round. "I would have liked to have had a few more weeks of practice and see more pucks coming into the series. But it is what it is. I think I felt way better each game, playing each game and just seeing different scenarios and situations. Once you get more of that, just the better you feel. Tonight was obviously better."
Despite turning in a terrific outing on Friday, Crawford admitted “there’s still some work to do” before he feels like in peak form. But if he gets there in time for the beginning of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Blackhawks could be a dangerous underdog team.
"I was able to kind of hide back there until I started feeling comfortable," Crawford said. "Still don't think I'm at the top of my game, but it was definitely better today."