- Scott Powers, ESPN Staff Writer
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What separates the top-tier goaltenders from the average ones is their ability to plug the holes soon after and not allow those dreadful nights to stack up, especially when it comes to the playoffs.
Crawford experienced one of those disastrous games Wednesday in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals. He allowed five goals, all to his glove side, and was bailed out by a six-goal effort from the Blackhawks in an overtime win against the Boston Bruins.
Crawford’s subpar performance was criticized by fans, resulted in Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville having to answer whether backup goaltender Ray Emery could replace Crawford and led to countless questions to Crawford about his glove-side struggles. Crawford accepted it all and said he knew he had to do better.
A game later, Crawford was better.
As Crawford has done all season, he dispensed of his forgettable game and replaced it with a memorable one. He held the Bruins to one goal on 24 shots and helped the Blackhawks take a 3-2 series lead with a 3-1 win over Boston in Game 5 on Saturday.
The times Crawford has had rough games this season, he has bounced back the following game with a stronger outing. He has a 2.00 goals-against average in the five games this season that followed his allowing four or more goals.
“I don't know if there's anything that changed his approach or his demeanor over the last couple days,” Quenneville said after Saturday’s win. “I thought he handled everything fine, good practice, good morning skate, excited. Didn't change at all. He looked forward to the game, and he seemed to have the same approach and rapport that we've seen all year long.”
Crawford’s teammates never doubted Crawford would be back to his usual self Saturday. While some critics have continued to question whether Crawford can be an elite goaltender, he has proved himself to his teammates all season with his consistent play.
Crawford had a 19-5-5 record, 1.94 goals-against average and .926 save percentage in the regular season. He has improved those numbers to a 1.83 goals-against average and .932 save percentage in 22 playoff games.
“I knew he was going to come back huge [Saturday],” Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “I’ve been playing with him ever since in the minors. I know how he responds. It was an overall bad defensive game last game. It wasn’t just him. It was the whole team. We let up way too many chances. [On Saturday when] the whole team plays better, you get the result.”
Crawford was happy to hear his teammates defend him following Game 4, but he didn’t expect any less. Neither he nor the Blackhawks allowed all the negative talk to get to them.
“Yeah, they've had my back the whole time,” Crawford said. “Our team is pretty tight. We're not going to let anything affect us. And like I said a million times, we just keep playing our game no matter what happens.”
Crawford got back to playing his game Saturday, and he and the Blackhawks are now one game from winning the Stanley Cup.