Corey Crawford has had his share of criticism through the past few seasons.
It’s come from social media. It’s come through articles and sports talk programs. Most recently, it came from Crawford, himself.
The Chicago Blackhawks’ goaltender has weathered all of it. He’s either shut it all out or used it to motivate him, as he did after calling himself out after a rough ending to his first-round Game 2 vs. the St. Louis Blues. Whatever his method of dealing with critics, be it others or himself, it’s worked.
Crawford has shown strong goaltending again this postseason, shaking off a tough start and now sitting second among playoff goaltenders in goals-against average (1.87) and save percentage (.936). Teammates say Crawford’s mental strength has been evident when he gets on the ice.
“He’s one of those goalies, he improved so much in the last couple of years, it’s unbelievable,” Marian Hossa said. “He’s so strong, he’s been (that way) for us during those last few years. He seems like every year he’s just become better and better goalie. I think he’s one of the top goaltenders in the league right now.”
Michal Handzus agreed.
“In the regular season everybody kind of questioned him still and the first two games he challenged himself and he’s been great,” he said. “Right now, it doesn’t surprise me anymore. He’s a great goalie and he’s always even keel, and that’s what we need from the goalie.”
Perhaps it’s also the thrill of the postseason that’s fueled Crawford to play as well as he has lately.
“I don't know. It's just fun,” he said recently. “It's exciting and the crowd is loud and I just enjoy when things are close and there's a little more on the line."
Crawford’s always had a rather laid-back personality. He rolls with the ups and downs, seemingly putting the bad behind him quickly. That was evident after Game 2 vs. the Blues, in which he was frustrated and critical of himself after allowing the overtime winner. Coach Joel Quenneville agreed with his goaltender’s assessment that Crawford needed to be better. The next game, he was, recording a 34-stop shutout that gave the Blackhawks the first victory of that series.
While he allowed three goals in Game 4 — an overtime game — Crawford hasn’t allowed more than two in his last four outings. He’s also been the last line of defense for the Blackhawks’ penalty kill, which is now 31 of 33 for the postseason.
Duncan Keith said Crawford can only benefit from listening to and dealing with criticism in a positive way.
“As a player you grow from that and certainly, I think he has,” Keith said. “He’s gotten better over the years in his game on the ice, but also mentally, too. I think it comes with age. You get more experienced and you deal with certain situations and I think just going through those situations as a player, you learn a lot from them.”
Criticism is part of any job. We all get it; it’s ultimately how we all deal with it. Goaltenders are the quarterbacks of the NHL and probably get more of it than anyone in the sport, save perhaps a coach. Crawford has rolled with it. Right now, his game is rolling, too.