The chant went up through the stands moments after a big stop: “Corey, Corey, Corey…”
Corey Crawford’s heard plenty from the fans over the past few seasons, although it’s probably not been as pleasant as what he heard Thursday night.
“Yeah, I definitely heard it. It’s a good feeling. They’ve been hard on me at times this year but that’s a part of it,” Crawford said. “They want the best. It’s only fair.”
And in Game 5, it was only fair that Crawford was cheered for his current success, not jeered for the past.
Crawford stopped 21 of 22 shots to cap a great first-round series and Marian Hossa scored twice as the Chicago Blackhawks eliminated the Minnesota Wild 5-1 at the United Center. The Blackhawks won the best-of-seven series 4-1 and that was due in large part to the team defense and Crawford, who allowed seven goals over those five games.
“What can I say about Crow? He was unbelievable,” said Jonathan Toews, who got his first postseason points, two assists. “We had a couple of games where it felt like we were going to the box every other minute and he was our best penalty killer. It’s good to see the crowd get behind hi, and he’s giving energy to us.”
Marcus Kruger and Andrew Shaw scored their first career playoff goals and Patrick Sharp added his fifth of the postseason, a 5-on-3 goal that capped the Blackhawks’ scoring for the night.
Crawford was especially big early, when the Wild were doing everything in its power to send this series back to Minnesota. His biggest was probably a lunging stop on a Mikko Koivu rebound during an early power play.
This first-round’s Crawford wasn’t last first round’s Crawford.
“When a team gets knocked out or loses, there are always fingers pointed at someone,” Sharp said. “It was a little unfair, some of the criticism he got. He’s been great all season long for us and he’s one of the most underrated goalies in my opinion. [Without] those first couple saves in the first seven minutes of the game, it could have been a different story. It’s a good feeling knowing you have a rock in net back there.”
For the Wild, it was another night of missed opportunities and bad luck. Josh Harding, who had to leave Game 4 with an unspecified injury, started the contest. It was another gutsy outing by a guy who’s had plenty of them this series. But his night would end early, as he was pulled after Hossa scored his second goal, in the second period.
Torrey Mitchell gave the Wild some life with his goal midway through the second period. But Shaw scored just 35 seconds later, restoring the Blackhawks’ lead to three goals at that point.
The Blackhawks didn’t play their most complete postseason game, but it was a start.
“We worked hard all season to get to this point, and nothing is for sure. Whether you’re the first or the eighth seed, it doesn’t matter,” Toews said. “We had to go out there and work hard to get out of that first round and we did that.”
The Blackhawks worked hard to erase the sting of two first-round losses. Crawford worked hard to erase the stigma attached to him after the last postseason. The chants were positive. So were the results.
“I learned from [the mistakes],” Crawford said. “I’m not the only guy who’s given up soft goals in the playoffs. You guys like to keep telling me about it. It’s something you try to learn from, try to make yourself better from.
“It feels really good right now,” Crawford continued. “But we still have a lot of work ahead of us. For now, we’re going to enjoy it and rest up.”