Six playoff series wins in a row. One Stanley Cup. Best player last year in the playoffs for the Chicago Blackhawks. Second best goaltender in most series.
Those are some of the phrases that describe Corey Crawford. For all he has done in the past two seasons there are still doubts that follow Crawford.
There are plenty of accolades that Crawford has earned in the past few seasons and deservedly so. However, there is always a feeling of that the hockey world doubts Crawford. Constant questions about Crawford as the weak spot of the Blackhawks follow whenever he is mentioned.
After winning the Stanley Cup last year and the unofficial Conn Smythe winner, sorry Patrick Kane, Crawford was passed over for the Canadian Olympic team. To be fair, Carey Price and Roberto Luongo are great goaltenders and so is Mike Smith. But none of them have won a Stanley Cup. Again to be fair, Price and Luongo have been starting goaltenders of gold medal winning teams in the Olympics.
After the selections were announced, it was clear that Crawford was hurt by the snub from Team Canada.
“Yeah, it's pretty disappointing,” Crawford said. “It was definitely a goal of mine. I didn't make it, so move on, focus on our team and winning hockey games here.”
At the time team Canada’s decision was the Blackhawks gain. After a short summer and a lot of hockey, Crawford was able to get valuable rest to prepare for the playoffs when the Blackhawks would need him most.
Of the four goaltenders left, only Crawford did not play in the Olympics. Henrik Lundqvist and Carey Price played in the gold medal game. Meanwhile, Crawford’s counterpart across the ice, Jonathan Quick is widely known as the best goaltender in the United States.
So for Crawford it’s another challenge that he must rise to. All Crawford did last year in the playoffs was go 16-7 en route to the cup with goals against of 1.84 and .932 save percentage. Crawford has been stellar again in the playoffs going 8-4 with goals against of 1.97 and .931 save percentage. Again Crawford stole the series from the Minnesota Wild with a sensational performance in Game 6 including a memorable third period stopping several breakaways.
The shadow of Quick again looms over Crawford. It did last season in the Western Conference Finals when Crawford played great. It must feel like déjà vu again for Crawford as Quick is the goaltender who is being talked about in glowing terms. Quick is the goaltender that has allowed 2 goals or less in seven consecutive wins. However, Crawford has allowed 2 goals or less in 7 of his 8 playoff victories as well.
Crawford has been the best player for the Blackhawks yet again. But no matter what he does, Crawford gets no respect when talking about the elite goaltenders in the NHL. He is continuously talked about as a second rate goaltender who is playing above expectations.
In his career with the Blackhawks, there is nothing more that Crawford relishes than being the underdog. Other goaltenders may get all of the praise but Crawford quietly goes about his business racking up wins and being a steady influence in the crease. Passed over for the Olympics and major awards, there is no one who is driven more by success and constantly having to prove himself to the world.
Will another series win against Quick prove the doubters wrong? Most likely not. But this series again represents another challenge for Crawford. Another chance to shove it to the doubters. This is when Crawford is at his best. Despite all of the success he has enjoyed, he is still treated like a mutt around the hockey world. Quick is a purebred and yet Crawford has to deal with being an outcast.
In order to get the respect that Crawford deserves he will have to outplay Quick yet again. It’s a personal challenge that Crawford will see on the other end of the ice on Sunday. It’s another step in the process for Crawford. As much as this series is about the Kings and Blackhawks, it’s about Quick and Crawford. Quick is a top five goaltender in the NHL while Crawford never gets mentioned.
Even with the better stats so far in the playoffs, if anyone is picking a goaltender to carry a team in this series, everyone will pick Quick over Crawford. Can Crawford do it again? If he does play well again then maybe everyone will finally give him the respect that he deserves.
Crawford is a Stanley Cup winning goaltender who is having a second consecutive great postseason saving the Blackhawks hides game after game as they coast through the playoffs. Yet everyone talks about Quick and others as if Crawford is just a bit piece in the puzzle for the Blackhawks.
Then again maybe not. Maybe Crawford for all of his greatness, no matter what he does, is just primed to start every postgame press conference with the following phrase.
I get no respect.