CHICAGO – If Corey Crawford is feeling the pressure of being in his first Stanley Cup final, he isn’t showing it.
The Chicago Blackhawks goaltender cracked jokes about his glove hand and already seemed to be over his roughest start of these playoffs, when he was beaten five times on 33 shots by the Boston Bruins. He quipped that during the Western Conference final there was criticism of his blocker side so “both sides are bad, I guess.”
And even though a weakness was exposed, Crawford’s confidence isn’t shaken going into Game 5 Saturday night.
“I think it’s something you have to learn from,” Crawford said. “If that would’ve happened in junior, I think I would’ve been pretty deflated, and my confidence would’ve been pretty low. I think it’s something you build over time and something you learn from.”
It was no secret the Bruins kept shooting glove-side Wednesday, and the 26-year-old deflected the notion that he has a weakness that could derail Chicago’s championship hopes.
Crawford also acknowledged that adjustments might be necessary. Even this late in a run, it’s possible that he and goaltending coach Stephane Waite fix some mechanics before Crawford goes back in net.
“Sometimes you need your goalie coach to look and see,” Crawford said. “As a goalie, it’s tough sometimes to really know if you’re fine, if there’s nothing to change or if there’s something to change. Sometimes you need that extra set of eyes to figure that out for you.”
His teammates tested him out at practice Friday.
“I tried today and he stopped me glove side, so hopefully he’s got it all figured out,” left-winger Patrick Sharp said. “I don’t know if that was the game plan or if that’s something they did on purpose and they were successful at it, but I like Corey in there.”
So does coach Joel Quenneville, who insisted he was not considering replacing Crawford with backup Ray Emery, who hasn’t played in almost two months. Crawford is the man for the Blackhawks.
“In our room he hasn’t taken any heat, so I don’t know what’s being said out there,” defenceman Duncan Keith said. “You look at the job he’s done all season for us, he’s been great all year long. I thought we let in five, and they let in six. I mean, we won the game and we’ll move on.”
Crawford moved on almost immediately. Rather than dissect how he gave up five goals in Game 4, he was “thrilled” about the victory and defenceman Brent Seabrook’s game-winner.
From the Bruins, there were plenty of denials that they solved Crawford.
“I know we’re not skating down the ice thinking, ‘Oh my God, if we don’t go glove-side we’re not going to score.’ Nothing like that,” forward Shawn Thornton said. “I think it’s just a bit of coincidence. We’re trying to get pucks on net from everywhere and create traffic and wherever that rebound pops out, I’m sure you’re trying to put it in.”
That the Bruins put the puck in five times could make Crawford think a lot about last game. Instead, he’s trying to keep excess worrying to a minimum.
“There’s times when you think about a game more than others,” he said. “But at this point, I really don’t want to be thinking too much about the last game, whether it was good or bad.”
The last game wasn’t good. But it was good enough to help Chicago tie the series at 2. Of course that did not mean Crawford was immune from criticism.
“I think that the scrutiny of goaltending at any stage of the season is at a different level of any other player, and I guess it’s even more out there now that you’re in the final,” Quenneville said. “But Corey just seems to move forward whatever the challenge is, the next shot, the next game. He’s excited about the opportunity. We’re excited about what he accomplished. He won a big game for us, and that’s where we’re at.”
Crawford is there, too. Experience, he said, helped him realize that he can’t let one bad performance affect his psyche.
“Situations you’ve gone through—a similar situation like that where you just collapse and you probably lose the game—you just learn from that and don’t feel like it’s the end of the world,” he said.
It could be the end of the line for the Blackhawks if the Bruins manage to light him up in the same fashion for the rest of the series.
“I think you can score on other areas, hopefully, on Corey Crawford, than just the glove,” Boston coach Claude Julien said. “At the end of the day you’re looking to find ways to score goals, whether it’s cross passes, tips, screens or whatever, it doesn’t really matter.”
As much as the Bruins had success beating Crawford in Game 4, one knows yet whether that will have a carry-over effect.
“That’s the thing: Everyone thinks (they’re) going to shoot to the glove,” Sharp said. “It’s not like Corey can start cheating glove side, because those guys are such good shooters they can pick him apart. Who knows if that’s a once-in-a-lifetime type of game of if they’ve figured something out.”