Sports

Who is that masked man for the Blackhawks?

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville called his team’s 3-1 comeback victory against the hated Blues on Sunday a “goalie win.’’

He did not characterize the Hawks’ inspiring 2-1 comeback victory against the evil Red Wings on Tuesday as a goalie win, but I will because it was.

A goalie win, I suppose, is in the eye of the beholder, but no matter how you describe it, Corey Crawford was great against the best team in the league and probably has been the best goalie in the league in the last week.

Crawford did not just end the team’s suicidal nine-game losing streak, but look at that, he has been in the crease for a four-game winning streak.

The operative phrase is “he has been in the crease’’ because Crawford has changed his style, not an easy thing to do successfully in-season.

Actually, he has done it for a second time this season.

Around Thanksgiving, Crawford had begun sinking into his net, and so had pucks. Crawford was yanked in a game against Phoenix, and backup Ray Emery promptly won six straight games.

After sitting for more than two weeks, Crawford got back in the net and showed a new aggressiveness, coming out to the top of his crease, making his 6-foot-2 size loom even larger.

But then, well, you know how kids are. They just have to take it too far. Crawford’s aggressiveness became craziness, blowing past the top of the crease to the bottom of the circles, it seemed. He regularly lost his posts and was killing the Hawks with what seemed to be a bad goal a night because of atrocious positioning.

Like that, the Hawks lost nine in a row. They went about two months without winning on the road. Geez, they went a month without winning period.

And then the Hawks hit New York for Game 8 of a road trip that made you think Caleb Hanie was starting.

Everything changed after Jonathan Toews scored on the penalty shot. The Hawks found their offense and found their goaltender. Crawford would backstop four straight wins -- the streaking Rangers, dogbreath Blue Jackets, hated Blues and evil Red Wings.

For those of you scoring at home, Crawford beat the best team in the East, the best team in the West, a rival they trailed in the playoff race, and Columbus because everybody beats Columbus because that’s what the franchise is there for.

The win over the Wings was Crawford at his best. He was technically sound after an early goal he should have stopped. Crawford was not charging out of his crease, and in fact did not seem to be racing to the top of the blue paint everytime. Call that maturity. Crawford displayed great savvy and discipline against a talented Wings team that kills aggressive opponents by moving the puck side to side.

What’s more, Crawford protected his goal line without burying himself in his net, no little thing for a guy who had been out of whack in different ways this season.

When Crawford is technically sound, he delivers those big saves that turn shifts and periods and team fortunes. Even with the Hawks’ strong checking in five-man units, the Wings still launched 16 shots in the second period, but Crawford was perfect, allowing his team to tie the game.

Then he shut down the Wings’ seven shots in the third period to make Marcus Kruger’s goal stand up as the winner.

In his four straight wins, Crawford has stopped 115 of 120 shots, a save percentage of .958, seemingly 100 points better than his slumping numbers earlier in the season.

His play is one of the reasons the Hawks remain a Stanley Cup contender. Yeah, the Hawks are sixth in the Western Conference playoff race, but they have 73 points, which would put them in the thick of the Eastern Conference race. As it is, they have more points than San Jose, which ranks above them in the West because the Sharks lead a worse division.

The Hawks might not have deserved to be called the best team in the league way back when they piled up points early, but they were never as bad as that team in that recent death spiral.

Point is, the Hawks have a good team playing good hockey. Great hockey everywhere except the power play, actually, which makes you wish the playoffs opened tomorrow. Remember, it’s not the best team that wins the Stanley Cup, it’s the team that’s playing the best at that moment.

Either way, the Hawks are looking closer to the team you expected because Crawford is looking like the stud they paid for.

 

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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