Corey Crawford said he needed to be better.
Coach Joel Quenneville also said his goaltender needed to be better.
They both got what they wanted in Game 3 of the Blackhawks' playoff series against the Blues on Monday.
Or maybe I should say they both got what they needed after choking away two late leads in the first two games.
To be fair, the two game-tying goals that beat Crawford in the last two minutes of the matches in St. Louis were team-wide failures.
But the goalie took the blame, which meant taking the responsibility and pressure that goes with a must-win Game 3.
“There’s no pressure,’’ Crawford said. “It’s more just reality. This was a really important game for us.’’
Crawford banked a lot of credit in his locker room by publicly taking the hit. But none of it would matter unless he actually did play better.
That was especially true in the first period because the Blues had scored the first goal in each of the first two games.
Crawford made several quality saves in a 15-shot first period, one of them coming while sitting down as he grabbed a Steve Ott shot from point-blank on a power play to protect a 1-0 lead. (Yes, the Hawks actually popped the first goal -- the only goal necessary, it turned out.)
Crawford didn’t have a lot of work in the second period, but that’s when he probably made his most important save. In stopping Patrick Berglund on a breakaway, Crawford likely prevented a complete deflation of the United Center because it followed consecutive wasted power plays by the Hawks and made a one-goal lead stand up.
With each successive wasted Hawks power play -- they went 0-for-4 and have blown 13 in a row -- it seemed inevitable that Crawford’s ability and nerve, as well as that of the rest of the Hawks, would be tested late for a third straight game, and it was.
But Crawford stood tall on several screened shots and made a particularly brilliant glove save on Alex Pietrangelo with 40 seconds remaining.
Mercifully, Marcus Kruger scored into an empty net with 20 seconds to go, and the Hawks skated off with a 2-0 win, Crawford’s third career playoff shutout.
But here’s the thing: That still won’t be enough for some people. Like, as soon as the Blues score again.
Crawford, it seems, will remain a lightning rod and scapegoat. It’s the nature of the position. It’s also a result of Crawford’s size.
He’s a big goalie who can look ungainly and awkward. When you’re not smooth and you give up goals, you get the blame even before you can volunteer to take it.
As unfair as it is, the question always seems to be whether Crawford can win a Stanley Cup, even though he just did. Give him credit for that. Also give him credit for taking the blame that some of his teammates should’ve owned.
And give him credit for answering his own honest assessment. Crawford indeed had played better. You can’t get better than perfect.Copyright © 2015, RedEye