- Melissa Isaacson, Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
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With the possible exception of the minute or so after that third-period, mask-rattling slapshot by Marco Scandella, Crawford looked like the best version of himself Sunday in a 4-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild, with which the Hawks take a 2-0 series lead to Minnesota.
The Scandella shot was scary. Crawford appeared stunned. There was discussion among commentators and questions postgame to Crawford and Hawks coach Joel Quenneville over whether the goaltender should have been removed from the game.
In the end, only Crawford's one-game-old mask was a casualty.
"I just picked it up last second and kind of turned my head, and it kind of threw me off balance," Crawford said. "But I'm fine."
That was not a given after Game 1, the fourth of five occasions this postseason on which Crawford was in the net and the Hawks allowed three or more goals in a single period. That the Hawks won that game Friday night was of little solace to a fan base that questioned whether its starting goalie was up to the task of this Stanley Cup grind, especially after it saw the alternate in Scott Darling.
But both Quenneville and Crawford bristled a touch at that suggestion Friday, and their reactions appeared well-founded after Sunday's victory.
It was Crawford's best game this postseason, as he logged 30 saves on the night, including two particularly noteworthy sequences. With the Hawks leading 1-0 in the first, Crawford stopped Thomas Vanek twice in succession in front of the net, then watched Vanek head to the penalty box for interference, though not before sending him off with a left hook to the chops.
But it was in the latter stage of the second period, with the Wild looking as if they might wrestle back control, when Crawford authored the best candidate for turning point of the game: a pad stop on Zach Parise in the crease, followed shortly after by another stellar save on a breakaway by Kyle Brodziak.
The United Center crowd jumped at the chance for its team to seize momentum for good with chants of "Corey, Corey" and, indeed, the Hawks took a 2-0 lead on a Patrick Kane goal with 19.9 seconds left in the period and cruised the rest of the way.
"The crowd gets into it, they start chanting his name, the energy feeds into our lineup, and we play better from there," Patrick Sharp said.
"That was huge," he said. "They were swarming the net two or three shots, the crowd went crazy, and Corey was solid. They had a couple big flurries in the game, but Corey was outstanding in those situations."
Although no self-respecting goaltender will ever admit to losing his nerve, clearly, having the two-time Stanley Cup winner poised and self-assured is as vital as any component for the Hawks going forward.
"He looks confident back there," Kane said. "He's playing some great hockey, great goaltending, and it's great to see."
It's also great for the Hawks that only Crawford's mask -- not his head -- was dented by the third-period shot he called "a bomb," one he lost sight of until the last second.
"I've taken some good ones in practice, but that was up there," he said. "That was a hard shot."
Crawford took a trip to the bench to change masks but said coming out of the game was never an option.
"I think I'd almost have to be down for a little bit," he said. "I don't know what the rule is, but I don't think I was anywhere near being taken out or anything like that."
Matt Dumba's third-period goal against was not Crawford's best moment, as it glanced off his left shoulder and into the net, but Crawford brushed it off and called Sunday "probably our best game [in the playoffs]. ... Everything was great."
The coach agreed. "It's our best game all-around," he said.
And his goalie?
"He was fine," Quenneville said. "And he is fine."
Corey Crawford silenced the doubters by fueling his team to a win over the Wild.