It would’ve been easy for Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville to yank goalie Corey Crawford shortly after the opening faceoff in San Jose on Tuesday night.
Easy and understandable. Crawford gave up two goals in less than six minutes and three before the first period was half over. Some bad goals, too. A fat rebound early. A whiff on the stick side shortly after the Hawks seemed to gather momentum after scoring.
Just like that, it was 3-1, Sharks, in their building, and we hadn’t even heard from Joe Thornton or Patrick Marleau. The game was about to get hopeless. This is when coaches change netminders.
But no. Quenneville stuck with his No. 1 goalie. The reward was a 5-3 victory in what felt like a message game against a powerful opponent that might have the Hawks on a to-do list this spring.
In the midst of a crazy first period -- two of the best defensive teams in the league allowed four goals in less than 90 seconds -- Crawford fought through a bad start and restored some confidence.
Crawford also staved off a goalie controversy that would’ve been far worse than Michael Handzus’ goal.
The situation was particularly acute after backup Ray Emery stole a win with 45 saves -- 30 of the omigod variety -- in Calgary three nights earlier. Emery’s unbelievable effort prompted thoughts he might get the start in San Jose. That, too, would’ve been easy and understandable, what with Quenneville’s propensity to ride the hot player.
But Crawford had been hot himself, ranking among the league leaders in wins, goals-against average and save percentage. He had earned whatever kind of showdown start this was by showing he could backstop the Hawks to the top of the league.
On Tuesday night, though, he showed something else. He showed the ability to right himself during a game. That’s hasn’t been one of Crawford’s strengths in his career as the Hawks starting goalie. Getting mentally right has been an issue. He hasn’t been the consistent stud the Hawks expect him to be.
But circle Tuesday night’s game as a sign he might have some new chops. I could be wrong, but it felt like Crawford reached some kind of mental summit. He has some battle in him. Some battle back.
Crawford hadn’t allowed more than two goals in a game this season, and he could’ve allowed a lot more than the three he gave up. See Marleau for details. But he stiffened and shut out the Sharks for the final 50 minutes. He gave his teammates a chance to come back. They did. The Hawks still haven’t lost in regulation. Vindication. Execution. Optimism.
The toughest decision a hockey coach faces is in goal. Quenneville made the right call in San Jose. Twice.