- Jesse Rogers, Chicago Cubs beat reporter
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CHICAGO -- There's little doubt an NHL goaltender facing a Game 7 has as much pressure as any individual in team sports. Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford knows he can fall back on the fact he's been there before -- in 2011 against the Vancouver Canucks. The Blackhawks were down 3-0 in their first-round series, but rallied to force a seventh game.
It was Crawford's rookie year.
"He had some amazing games in that stretch but none better than that Game 7 in Vancouver," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville recalled on Tuesday. "He gave us a chance and single-handedly was outstanding in that game to get it to overtime. I didn't say much. [Goalie coach] Steph [Waite] and him have a nice rapport."
Crawford saved 36 that night, but the Blackhawks lost 2-1 in overtime. It was his coming-out party, even in defeat, as most observers believe he outplayed veteran Roberto Luongo in the series. Crawford was rewarded with a three-year contract that offseason, and now he faces another Game 7.
"I'm not sure if it's a career-defining one, but I'll tell you that [Game 7s] will be talked about the most and they will be the most revered and most memorable for everybody involved," former Blackhawks goalie Marty Turco said via phone Tuesday.
Turco was a teammate of Crawford in 2011, and saw how he matured down the stretch of the regular season. The Blackhawks slipped into the playoffs on the final day of the season, and Turco was there when Crawford had the weight of the world on him trying to defend a Stanley Cup while falling behind 3-0 in the series against the Canucks.
But by Game 7, the Blackhawks were feeling good about themselves again, and Crawford was on a roll. He shut out the Canucks in Game 5 and made 32 saves in an overtime win in Game 6.
"We were coming off a pretty good high coming back from 3-0," Turco recalled. "You really felt like you were going to win and be a team of destiny. The conversations Corey and I had, it was an easy time to be confident and to be on a high and feel good about our chances. Whenever someone in the room said, 'We can do this,' I'm almost certain it was a true statement. Guys believed that. Corey was playing great hockey. More than anything, it was business as usual."
Fast-forward to Wednesday night. The scenarios are similar in the sense that the Blackhawks have come back from a series deficit again, but now they're at home and they are the top seed. Crawford survived giving up a bad goal in Game 6. Will he capitalize on the moment at hand, as he did as a rookie, or wilt under the pressure of high expectations?
"We look at it as more fun," Crawford said Tuesday. "We're excited about this game."
It's safe to assume that if Crawford could handle a Game 7 as a rookie, he should be able to handle one now. But there's something to be said about being new to the playoff scene and not knowing any better about the pressure that comes with it. That may have been the case in 2011.
"Corey was so new to it, he was enjoying it, but it was still nerve-racking," Turco said. "It was an anxious moment and [Wednesday] night will probably echo those things again."
Crawford won over fans this season after a shaky 2011-12 campaign. He'll still let up the occasional soft goal, but what goalie doesn't? At least he knows what the emotion of an elimination game feels like. He staved off elimination three times in 2011 and once in 2012 against the Phoenix Coyotes. Now he's helped keep the Detroit Red Wings at bay with two more wins. But he's never gotten completely over the hump. Wednesday is another chance.
"He has some history on his side," Turco said. "He's been here, in this position, and having some fun with it. But I think he has a lot to draw on."
Turco also lost a Game 7 to Vancouver, in 2007 when he was with the Dallas Stars. He agrees -- it feels different than any other game.
"There is nothing that will ever replace the night before a Game 7 or playing in it," Turco said. "These guys are super-anxious. ... Someone is going home, probably someone that doesn't deserve it."
If there is anything in Crawford's approach that might help him, it's the fact that he's not your typical goaltender. In other words, he's pretty normal.
"He doesn't change his demeanor," Quenneville said. "He has the same level of consistency in his approach. He's low-key. He's focused in his preparation, he doesn't change too much."
Crawford added: "Preparation is the same. It's another hockey game. It's a big hockey game, but it's still the same game. It's fun. It's fun to compete at these times and in these games."
Having said all of that, Crawford knows this isn't any other game. Losing in five or six would have been bad enough, but as Turco indicated, a Game 7 win or defeat is remembered much more vividly. Especially at home, the first Game 7 in Chicago since 1995.
Crawford was asked if it was do-or-die.
"Do-or-die?" He smiled, knowing the obviousness of the question. "It's Game 7."