Corey Crawford is the backbone of the Blackhawks’ winning streak

Corey Crawford is often overlooked because of the star power in Chicago, but the current win streak is showcasing why he’s become as important to the Blackhawks’ success as Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

If you wanted to boil Corey Crawford’s play right now down to one play, all you’d have to do is take a look at Vladimir Tarasenko’s power play scoring chance in the third period of Wednesday’s game.

Tarasenko, one of the league’s best goal scorers, was left wide open on the right wing, made his way towards the crease and had an almost entirely wide open net to shoot at for what should have been the game-tying goal. Instead, Crawford shot his left pad out with reflexes like a cat with Red Bull coursing through its veins, turned the puck aside and the Blackhawks escaped the penalty kill without surrendering a goal against.

Eventually, the Blues would find a hole in Crawford — just one — and it would be enough to tie the contest, but the Blackhawks skated to a 2-1 victory and pushed their win streak to seven thanks to Artemi Panarin’s perfectly placed wrister in overtime. 

And though game after game there has been hero after hero during the current run for the Blackhawks, with Panarin playing that role Wednesday night, the one near-constant has been Crawford. And right now it’s hard to say the win streak is thanks to anyone other than the Blackhawks’ goaltender.

There will be those who point to the fact Chicago has potted 24 goals during the seven-game run, or that Scott Darling spelled Crawford on Sunday in the second half of a back-to-back and kept the streak alive with a toe save, or even some who praise the resurgent Marian Hossa, who is putting together a nice season after a down year in 2015-16, Artem Anisimov’s since-ended 11-game point streak or the play of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane or the sophomore Panarin.

But the fact is Chicago really hasn’t been all that great during their current win streak, and it’s been Crawford who has been stealing goals from opponents and wins for the Blackhawks over the past two weeks.

Since Oct. 28, when the winning streak began, Chicago’s underlying numbers have left something to be desired and are a far cry from the dominant Blackhawks some would think the current seven-game tear represents. Over the past seven games, the Blackhawks have managed a 48.8 Corsi For percentage at 5-on-5, a shots for percentage of 45 percent, are roughly even in scoring chances for and against, but boast a remarkable .979 save percentage.

That right there is Crawford’s doing.

During the current streak, Crawford has allowed just six goals against in six games, posted two shutouts and hasn’t allowed more than two pucks by him in a single outing. He’s faced 30-plus shots in five of six contests and turned aside 191 of the past 197 shots that have come his way. Only one goaltender in the league, Robin Lehner, has seen more shots over the same span, and Crawford’s .970 SP is the best mark of any goaltender to play more than at least two games since Oct. 28.

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But Crawford’s play goes beyond the current streak. No goaltender — not Henrik Lundqvist, not Ben Bishop and not even Carey Price — has a better 5-on-5 SP than Crawford’s .973 overall mark this season. Few goaltenders are seeing as much action, either, with Crawford being tested more than 31 times per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play. He’s made the tough saves look routine and routine saves look like a walk in the park, all the while keeping Chicago in games they have no business being in until someone on the offense can break through.

This isn’t an altogether new thing, though. 

While Kane may have swept the league’s MVP awards in 2015-16 thanks to his high-scoring season, he himself said that it was Crawford who was the real backbone of the team. Hard to argue, either, with Crawford finishing with the league’s fourth-best 5-on-5 SP despite facing the seventh-most shots per 60 minutes of the 23 goaltenders who played more than 2,000 minutes. 

The Hockey News’ own Matt Larkin has referred to Crawford as the Rodney Dangerfield of the goaltending fraternity, in that he “gets no respect.” Slowly but surely, though, Crawford appears to be earning it, even if his naysayers will still call out a shaky glove or the team in front of him, to which his glove would say it’s quite good, thanks for asking, and the underlying numbers would reflect a team that’s not the possession juggernaut and shot shield that it once was.

It’s too soon — way, wayyy too soon — to be talking about a Vezina Trophy nod for Crawford, but it feels like barring some unforeseen catastrophe, this is a Blackhawks team that’s bound for yet another post-season appearance. And if, or when, that comes to pass, it should be Crawford who gets a lot of the credit, because of all the stars in Chicago, he’s shining the brightest.

(All advanced stats via Corsica)

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