CHICAGO – Corey Crawford sat in his dressing room stall Sunday afternoon, talking in low tones that came no where close to the volume his play over the previous 60 minutes had produced.
Around him, his Blackhawks teammates referred to him as the ultimate penalty-killer and a leader who rarely allows previous struggles to rattle a confidence that is required of Stanley Cup-winning goalies.
But after making 35 saves in Sunday’s series-clinching, 5-1 win over St. Louis at the United Center, Crawford sounded nothing like the hero everyone else in the room made him out to be.
Instead for Crawford, the effort was a matter of just doing what he knows is expected of him.
“I think I was pretty sharp all game,” Crawford said. “I mean, there was a little bit of penalty trouble in the second (period) and our (penalty-killing unit) was great again. There were some big blocks by our forwards and our (defensemen).”
But in a game that remained even throughout two periods when the Blues owned a 28-11 shot advantage and had five power-play opportunities, no one was bigger than Crawford. Time after time, he deflected shots and kept the Hawks in the game until the third period when they exploded for four goals.
Among the biggest moments came midway through the second period when Crawford knocked down a point-blank shot and then dove to keep the puck from reaching the back of the net as it slid dangerously along the goal line.
What could have been a huge momentum shift was – to Crawford – just a instant out of what was almost three dozen chances to do his job.
“It was a play,” Crawford said snickering, dismissing it in the grand scheme of the game’s entirety. “It was a fortunate play for us and we got a good bounce.”
Crawford, who assumed the blame for the Hawks losses in the series’ first two games, said he maintained a shot-to-shot mentality throughout the series. He never allowed himself to allow his confidence to waver – a trait, his teammates said – that makes him one of the team’s most valuable assets.
Even after the series-clinching victory in which he played such a key role, Crawford wasn’t overly eager to take too much of the credit for helping the Hawks advance. But Sunday’s performance – as much as Crawford didn’t want to admit it – was a major difference-maker.
Even if Crawford brushed praise aside – an attitude that came as no surprise to his teammates.
“That’s what a leader does – he’s not afraid to take the blame and take the criticism and that negative attention and he pulls through it,” Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “Your teammates and your team respond to play and behavior like that. So it was a pretty amazing job by him.”
After Sunday’s win, Hawks coach Joel Quenneville characterized Crawford’s play with a series of words. Tremendous. Outstanding. Quick. Sharp. Square. Efficient. He then said Crawford – along with the Hawks penalty kill – was the reason why the Hawks won Game 6 and the series.
For Crawford, however, it just represented another day on the job, a chance to rest up before getting another opportunity to keep the Hawks moving closer to their second straight Stanley Cup.
“It’s always nice to get a little bit of rest in the playoffs,” Crawford said. “I’m sure we’re going to be eager to get the next one.”