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Goalie Corey Crawford has been far better than good enough

Jonathan Quick Corey Crawford

Jonathan Quick, Corey Crawford

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It’s no surprise the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Blackhawks are in the Stanley Cup Final for the
second time in the last four
seasons. But with goalie Corey Crawford leading the way?

All the Hawks needed was for Crawford to be the Antti Niemi of these playoffs — that is, good enough to win. But with a helping hand from the Hawks’ defense, Crawford has been better than that. His 1.74 goals-against average is the best in the playoffs. And his .935 save percentage ranks second to the .943 of the Boston Bruins’ Tuukka Rask.

‘‘He deserves all the credit in the world and then some,’’ captain Jonathan Toews said. ‘‘He’s doing it all. He’s one of the huge reasons we’re still playing. He’s had to battle and go through some tough times, like anybody else. He’s persevered. [He’s] playing the best hockey of his career, helps his team compete for a Stanley Cup. He’s probably the most important player on our team right now.’’

It has been a long journey for Crawford, 28, who waited five
seasons with the Hawks to get the opportunity to start, then three more to get past the first round of the playoffs.

‘‘I’ve dreamed about it my whole life,’’ Crawford said. ‘‘Worked hard. It’s nice, man. It’s nice to finally get there after all the work. But there’s still a lot to do, so we’ve got to be ready.’’

The Hawks know Crawford is as deserving of the moment as anyone. He had a chance to be in Niemi’s shoes in 2009-10 but was beaten out by Niemi for the backup job to Cristobal Huet, who eventually lost the starting job to Niemi. The rest is history.

‘‘You’ve got to commend him on how he’s played all year long,’’ coach Joel Quenneville said. ‘‘I think the consistency, his approach where he just moves forward to see the next situation, the next shot. He’s unflappable in that area.

‘‘He’s moved us along here. Guys have responded in front of him, but Corey has been rock-solid. I think his rebound control, his movement, handling the puck . . . [he] has really done a nice job in this playoff.’’

Crawford wasn’t perfect in
Game 5 of the Western Conference finals Saturday against the Los
Angeles Kings, but he was at his best when the Hawks needed him most in their 4-3 double-overtime victory that clinched the series 4-1. There was nothing he could do on Mike Richards’ deflection that tied the score with nine seconds left in regulation, but he kept the Hawks in the game with 11 saves in the first overtime, and Patrick Kane’s goal off a pass from Toews in the second overtime won the game and the series.

Crawford rarely, if ever, gets flustered on or off the ice. But his relief was palpable.

‘‘Man, nine seconds left and the score,’’ he said with a touch of exasperation. ‘‘We’ve been through so much throughout the playoffs [that] we’ve been able to play our game after something like that happens. It was just another step for us. We didn’t stop. Played well in overtime. Had some chances and, obviously, a good finish there.’’

Crawford said he was a little
angry after Richards redirected a shot by Anze Kopitar to tie the score.

‘‘It was obviously a tough one to take at first,’’ he said. ‘‘You know, you’re nine seconds away from making the Final, and they score. [But] we’ve gotten over so many things so quickly [that] we were able to stay focused and keep playing our game, and we did the same thing [Saturday] night.’’



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