CHICAGO – Like most Stanley Cup Final series, goaltenders play a pivotal role in the success of their teams. They often provide the confidence which allows a team to press offensive play more aggressively. The Chicago Blackhawks rely on a patient, home grown talent to defend their net in the Final and expect him to propel them to success against the Boston Bruins.
Crawford, or “Crow” as fans have nicknamed him, is a homegrown product of the Blackhawks. Drafted 52nd overall in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, the 6’2”, 200 lb. goaltender has crafted his skills in Rockford, the club’s AHL affiliate 80 miles northeast of the Windy City. Crawford has been patient while Nikolai Khabibulin, Critobal Huet, Antii Niemi and Marty Turco took turns defending the Chicago net. Finally, he was given a shot as the starter.
After a stellar rookie season in 2010-11 where Crawford started 57 games posting a 33-18-6 record with a 2.30 goals against average and 0.917 save percentage with 4 shutouts. Chicago was knocked off by the Vancouver Canucks in their first round series in seven games and things got worse from there.
In 2011-12, Crawford started another 57 games delivering a 30-17-7 record with a 2.72 goals against and a 0.930 save percentage. It wasn’t the type of regular season Chicago wanted from their top netminder after such a solid rookie campaign. Redemption didn’t come in the playoffs as Chicago lost to Phoenix in the first round 4 games to 2. Crawford faltered in the series with a 2.58 goals against average and 0.893 save percentage.
In the off season, General Manager Stan Bowman determined Crawford would need to be pushed in training camp. He acquired a veteran presence in Ray Emery, a goaltender who backstopped the Ottawa Senators in their 2007 Stanley Cup Final run against the Anaheim Ducks.
The talent-laden Emery would also add an additional element to the team. Having faced a career-threatening injury, avascular necrosis, the disease which ended Bo Jackson’s career, Emery has demonstrated the ability to overcome adversity and thrive. The experience serves to inspire the Blackhawks.
As the 2013 regular season unfolded, Crawford shared the goaltending duties with Emery starting 28 of 48 games. Among goaltenders with more than 24 starts, he posted a 19-5-5 record with a 1.94 goals against average (2nd overall) and a 0.926 save percentage (6th overall) and three shutouts.
Taking a shared, but lead role with Chicago may have allowed for a well-rested Crawford as his performance has been even better in the playoffs. He has emerged as the lead goaltender with the Blackhawks compiling a 12-5-1 record with a 1.74 goals against average (1st overall) and a 0.935 save percentage (2nd overall) with one shutout.
In the Western Conference Final against the defending champions, Crawford stymied the high-powered Los Angeles Kings winning 4 of 5 games in the series victory, registering a 1.99 goals against average and 0.927 save percentage. In over thirty minutes of overtime, he made all thirteen saves to ensure a series-clinching victory on home ice putting the Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in the last four years.
Now Crawford and the Blackhawks roll into Game One with momentum on their side. Having dispatched Minnesota, Detroit and Los Angeles, Chicago enters the Final with home ice advantage and an array of depth players contributing to their success. Still, for Chicago the win the Final, Crawford will have to be magnificent in stopping the Boston attack. The puck drops at 8:00 ET tonight at the United Center.