Corey Crawford taking pressure head-on


Corey Crawford taking pressure head-on

Corey Crawford got his first question about pressure this season not long after we knew there would actually be a season.
Pressure? Were talking about that already? the Blackhawks goaltender said to laughs. This is fun, what we do. Im excited.
That was nearly two weeks ago, when euphoria from the lockouts impending end overshadowed the pressure that every team would feel with a 48-game schedule.
Now, on the eve of the NHLs opening day, that pressure is probably resonating with many. And Crawford has to be among them.
Crawford had a second consecutive 30-victory season in 2011-12. But he knows its all about how you finish, and Crawfords finish was a tough one against the Phoenix Coyotes, who eliminated the Blackhawks in the first round last April. As the Blackhawks prepare for their season opener at the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday afternoon, Crawfords back to show he can rebound this season.
Every years big, but especially this year, said Crawford, whos entering the second year of the three-year, 8 million deal he signed in the summer of 2011. My record last year, I still won 30 games. But obviously there were times I couldve been more consistent, given this team a chance.
Indeed, despite those 30 victories, Crawford was inconsistent last season. He could have a brilliant, strong streak, then go into a tailspin where hed get yanked from games. Backup Ray Emery would take the reins, go on a streak of his own, and the never-ending goalie controversy talk would begin anew. Crawfords toughest moments came in the playoffs, when hes mostly remembered for losing two games on two soft goals.
They were rough, and Crawford doesnt need reminding.
I dont need to look at (the film of that). I remember it pretty well, Crawford said. Its something thats going to motivate me.
The Blackhawks have long said that they have confidence in Crawford, although their inquiry about Martin Brodeurs availability this summer somewhat flies in the face of that. Still, coach Joel Quenneville said Crawford has proven his mettle in the past, and that he looked better as Wednesday nights scrimmage progressed.
Whether it was getting the rust off or getting into the feel, you could see him settling in and taking charge, Quenneville said. He looked comfortable, confident.
How Quenneville even juggles his goaltending situation this season is unclear. With games coming in rapid succession, there may be more splitting duties than usual. But Crawford is the No. 1 guy and his play will largely dictate how things go.
Pressure was a bit of a punch line a few weeks ago. But its very real now, and Crawford is going to be feeling his share of it. His backers will be hoping every big save is followed by more big saves. His critics will be waiting or that first hiccup or soft goal.
Crawford knows its a proving season for him. And he said ready to handle the pressure.
Im a competitive guy, Crawford said. And Im confident right now that I can do my job.

Five Things from Blackhawks-Maple Leafs: Richard Panik stays hot

Five Things from Blackhawks-Maple Leafs: Richard Panik stays hot

This Five Things was headed for a lot of negativity before the final three minutes of regulation. But thanks to the Blackhawks’ third-period comeback, this one won’t sting as much as Friday’s installment.

So while you all celebrate the Cubs going to a World Series, let’s look at Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ 5-4 shootout victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

1. Waking up just in time. The Maple Leafs haven’t played their best hockey in third periods – entering Saturday’s game, they’d been outscored 6-1 in that frame. But for 17-plus minutes of the third it didn’t look like the Blackhawks were going to take advantage of that stat. But they would, salvaging a point out of nowhere with two goals within a minute (Artem Anisimov at 17:32 and Richard Panik at 18:32). Better late than never.

2. The Richard Panik show continues. The forward said he doesn’t think about Toronto anymore, that it’s all about the team he’s with now. But looking at his celebration on his game-tying goal late in the third period, there had to be a little motivation to score against the Leafs, right? The Blackhawks don’t care who the opponent is, and Panik now has six goals to start the season.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

3. Power play fizzles. Ah, thought we were going to talk about the other special teams? In a second. The bigger problem on Saturday was the Blackhawks’ advantage, on which they went 0-for-6. It took until overtime, when their fifth power play was a 4-on-3 for them to really generate anything against the Leafs.

4. Late-period goals hurt. The Blackhawks looked set to enter first intermission with a 1-0 lead but Tyler Bozak scored with just 14 seconds remaining. They could’ve had a 2-2 tie entering the second intermission but James van Riemsdyk scored with 1:44 remaining in the second. Again, the Blackhawks overcame that. But coach Joel Quenneville talked about the loss of momentum in games, and here are two examples of it.

5. The Auston Matthews show. The Leafs phenom didn’t score a goal on Saturday but there’s no doubt he had his effect. His speed was especially on display on William Nylander’s goal; Matthews drew several Blackhawks and Nylander had a rather open net on the rebound.

Blackhawks rally to beat Maple Leafs in shootout

Blackhawks rally to beat Maple Leafs in shootout

As the clock ticked down to under three minutes remaining in regulation, the Blackhawks were looking at more negatives than positives.

Their power play wasn’t working. Their penalty kill was 1-for-2 and they were trailing 4-2 to the Toronto Maple Leafs. But just when it looked like the Blackhawks were headed for their second consecutive loss, they pulled out a comeback.

Richard Panik scored the game-tying goal against his former team and Artemi Panarin scored the shootout winner as the Blackhawks came back to beat the Leafs 5-4 on Saturday night.

Tyler Motte scored his second goal in as many nights and Artem Anisimov had two goals. Scott Darling stopped 30 of 34 shots through regulation and overtime. The victory didn’t erase some of the issues the Blackhawks still have, some of which showed in this one, too. But it brought some needed relief.

“It was a big win in a lot of different ways,” said Duncan Keith, who had two assists, including the primary one on Panik’s goal. “I know it’s still early but I think we were able to put some pressure on there. And anytime you get big goals like that late in the game when they’re needed, it’s a confidence boost and something we can build off.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

The end looked like it was going to be frustrating, especially after William Nylander’s second goal of the night gave the Leafs a 4-2 lead about five minutes into the third. But Anisimov scored his second goal of the evening with 2:28 remaining to pull the Blackhawks to within 4-3. Just one minute later, Panik scored his sixth of the season to tie it 4-4.

Panarin’s shot in round three of the shootout, coupled with Darling stopping Mitchell Marner’s wrist shot, sealed it.

“Obviously we were down 4-2 and came back against a great team. That helps our confidence,” Panik said. “Everybody’s pumped about a win so that’s a good sign.”

The Blackhawks will take it but they know they had their problems in this one. Their power play went 0-for-6. That included two 4-on-3 opportunities in overtime. They allowed another goal on their penalty kill, although they did snuff out another Toronto power-play opportunity in the third period.

“It’s one,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We need several, several, several to get excited. But certainly that was, we’ll say, timely.”

The Blackhawks still have a long way to go this season. That penalty kill still needs work. They want more consistent play. But considering how this was looking with about three minutes remaining in regulation, they’ll take it.

“We’re certainly fortunate to come back in a game like that,” Quenneville said. “There have been a lot of comebacks in the league this year and we’ve given up some leads ourselves. That was a little different way of going about it. There are some positives but more so how we played in the third period. But we still lose a lot of momentum in the game. That’s what we’ve got to shore up.”