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Corey Crawford isn’t considered elite goalie outside Chicago

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Patrick Sharp was smirking before the question was even finished. It wasn’t the first time he heard it, and he knows it won’t be the last time, either.

“It seems like we always answer questions about [Corey Crawford],” Sharp said. “I’m not sure why.”

Why all the bad questions? Good question.

All Crawford has done is put together back-to-back stellar regular seasons. He won at least 30 games for the third time in his three full seasons. He had a 2.26 goals-against average, fourth-best among clear-cut No. 1 starters. Then there’s the minor detail that his name is on the Stanley Cup, and that he was the Blackhawks’ best player during the playoffs.

Yet outside of the Hawks’ locker room and outside of Chicago, Crawford still has his doubters. He’s somehow still considered a question mark. A Toronto sports-talk radio host this week actually asked, “Can the Hawks win a Stanley Cup with Crawford in net?” apparently forgetting that they just did.

Over the last two seasons, Crawford has put together an elite résumé. Yet he’s still not considered among the league’s elite goalies. And nobody in the Hawks’ room can figure out why.

“I don’t know why, that’s a good question,” Bryan Bickell said. “He’s our backbone. He’s our goalie, and that’s one of the reasons we’re going to keep him here long term because he is one of the elite goalies in this league.”

Indeed, the Hawks gave him a six-year, $36 million contract extension last summer. The team clearly believes in him. And Crawford, for one, doesn’t pay any attention to what anyone outside of the locker room thinks of him.

“I don’t really care about that kind of stuff,” he said. “I’m just getting prepared for every game. This is a fun time of year coming up.”

That ability to shut out the noise might be Crawford’s strongest asset. It’s a mental toughness he has cultivated after spending five years in the minor leagues, then bouncing back in the biggest way possible from consecutive first-round exits in 2011 and 2012.

“With goalies, that mind-set’s got to be, ‘What’s next?’ not, ‘What just happened?’ ’’ coach Joel Quenneville said. “Whatever happened, good or bad, you’ve got to move forward because a lot of times you get measured on the ones you don’t save, the ones that go in, as opposed to the great saves. It’s always challenging, the scrutiny goalies have and face on a daily basis, especially under the microscope come playoff time. But Crawford doesn’t get rattled. He’s unflappable — especially this time of the year.”

Crawford is one of the more affable guys in the Hawks’ room, a laid-back sort who tends to focus on the positives even after lopsided losses. But, like any athlete, he has a hyper-competitive side to him that shows up in games and even in practices. Crawford’s backup, Antti Raanta, marvels at his ability to instantly move past the occasional bad goal or bad game and to turn on the intensity with the flip of a switch.

“He’s really, really good,” Raanta said. “He’s focusing by himself, but he still can joke around a little bit. But when he puts the mask on, then he [has] the game face. You can tell. You can see how he changes. . . . Mental toughness is really big in a goalie’s life. And I think Crawford is one of the best to do the things inside his head.”

Last spring, Crawford went 16-7 with a 1.84 GAA and .932 save percentage, outdueling Jonathan Quick and Tuukka Rask. He still didn’t win the Conn Smythe Trophy. He still didn’t get picked for Team Canada in the Olympics. And he’s still not considered elite by much of the hockey world. Maybe another Stanley Cup will change that. Maybe not.

Either way, Crawford doesn’t care.

Maybe that’s what makes him so good.

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkLazerus



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