Corey Crawford didn’t need anyone to tell him how tough Game 2 ended; he was reading himself the riot act before anyone else could.
The Chicago Blackhawks goaltender chided himself after that Saturday game, mainly for the game-winning goal he gave up in overtime that he got a piece of and should’ve gotten entirely. He needed to be better. He needed to respond right away. He needed to prove he could play like he did last posteason.
He did all of that on Monday.
Crawford stopped all 34 shots he faced and Jonathan Toews’ early goal proved to be the game-winner as the Blackhawks beat the St. Louis Blues 2-0 at the United Center. It was the third career postseason shutout for Crawford, and it helped the Blackhawks dent the Blues’ series lead, 2-1. Game 4 is Wednesday night here at the United Center.
The Blackhawks were already down a player entering Monday’s game. Brent Seabrook was suspended for three games for his hit on David Backes, who also did not play on Monday, with Sheldon Brookbank taking Seabrook’s place. But Monday was mainly about Crawford, who needed to show he could rebound.
“I thought it was a great response and tremendous effort by him,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “He was square, he was solid, in control. I thought his rebound effectiveness today was as good as we've seen so it was a real solid game for him and a tight one throughout. Three games in a row it's been a very intense series and extremely close.”
Close, indeed, as this one was 1-0 until the waning seconds. The Blackhawks had several power-play opportunities to pad that lead, including 37 seconds of 5-on-3 time, but couldn’t. Their penalty kill held though, however, snuffing out three Blues opportunities. And instead of giving up a goal to the Blues down the stretch, the Blackhawks got that insurance goal. Marcus Kruger scored the empty-net goal to secure Crawford’s shutout.
Crawford’s long said he can handle the pressure and shrug off bad nights or goals. He said Monday he doesn’t think of it as pressure to recover; it’s more like reality.
“That was a really important game for us. It’s an exciting one, too, coming back in this building,” he said. “Our fans are always loud throughout the year and in the playoffs it’s almost double with intensity with our crowd. We were all excited and we had that calm, cool confidence in this group. Our veterans, our leaders led the way throughout the whole day and the last couple of days just keeping calm and collected and everyone else followed.”
Quenneville and Crawford talked on Sunday; it’s a bit unusual they did, as Quenneville usually leaves his goaltender and goaltending coach (Steve Weeks) to sort things out. This talk, however, was to give Crawford credit for realizing his need to play better.
“It wasn't really a challenge,” Quenneville said. “It was like with any players, we were having a chat and I was basically commending him for accepting that responsibility for what he said.”
The Blackhawks have clawed their way back into this series. It was harrowing again. It was nerve-wracking again. But it’s a victory nonetheless. Crawford told everyone he needed to be better, and then he was.
“It just sets an example for everyone in this room when you have guys with attitudes like that that are very selfless and not thinking about themselves and whether they’re being criticized or not,” Toews said. “He wants to win. That’s all that matters to him. And I think that shows a lot to the rest of the guys in the room.”