- Scott Burnside, NHL
- 0 Shares
Cory Schneider, shelled in Game 3 after replacing Roberto Luongo in the Vancouver goal, was between the pipes again Tuesday as the Northwest Division champion Vancouver Canucks were swept by the sixth-seeded San Jose Sharks.
And that’s to say nothing of the ongoing drama surrounding the Blackhawks’ first-round opponents, the Minnesota Wild, who lost inspirational netminder Josh Harding; Harding suffered some sort of lower body injury and left after the first period in Tuesday.
Harding’s replacement, Darcy Kuemper, promptly allowed the first shot he faced to float by him as Chicago went on to win 3-0.
Ho hum. No muss, no fuss, just another day at the office as he stopped all 25 shots he faced and the Blackhawks took a 3-1 series lead against the Wild, with a chance to close them out on home ice Thursday. He even managed to drum up some empathy for Kuemper’s situation.
“I think their young guy, obviously letting in the first shot, it’s pretty nerve-wracking. I’ve been in that situation before. It’s obviously pretty nervous time,” Crawford said.
This night Crawford was tested early on as the Wild started strongly, hoping to build on Sunday’s 3-2 overtime victory.
The Wild were also denied on six power plays, including back-to-back man-advantage situations early in the third period with the game still in question at 2-0 Chicago. Crawford was especially busy during those situations, flopping to corral loose pucks amid great traffic in his crease.
“It starts with your goaltender in those situations,” coach Joel Quenneville said.
“I liked his motion; I liked his movement in net. He seemed very patient; followed the pucks, found pucks. He seemed big. I think his rebound control was in place; a lot of traffic on those power plays that he seemed to (have) real good composure,” the coach added.
Overall the Wild are 0-for-15 in the series, and while the Blackhawks did block 26 shots in Game 4 versus just 10 for the Wild, Crawford has set the tone throughout.
“He was huge tonight. He really wanted to come out and have a strong game and we needed him to. He was really calm in the net,” Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook told ESPN.com after the game.
As for notion that Crawford has helped create an oasis of goaltending calm amid a sea of chaos, Seabrook is in favor of it continuing.
“It’s great," he said. "The less crap you have to deal with is better, it’s better on all of us. He’s been great and he’s held the fort for us all year as well as (backup) Ray (Emery). It’s been nice having both those guys back there."
Through four games, two of which have been decided in overtime, Crawford has given up six goals.
“We just go about our business. All year long we’ve just prepared for the next game and worried about what’s coming up,” Crawford said after pitching Tuesday’s shutout.
“I think we definitely showed that tonight; so many power-play situations for them. We just kept our cool. We didn’t freak out on the refs or lose it on each other we just stuck with it, played hard and obviously came through,” he said.
Crawford’s performance thus far stands in stark relief to the one he delivered a year ago.
Last spring the Blackhawks were dispatched in the first round by the Phoenix Coyotes in an emotional, sometimes violent, six-game series. While Coyotes netminder Mike Smith was a force, Crawford was less so, allowing a couple of soft overtime goals as the Blackhawks found themselves one-and-done for the second straight season after winning the Stanley Cup in 2010.
This spring, though, Crawford has been a steadying hand as the Blackhawks have been at times slow to get their playoff legs under them.
The NHL’s best regular-season team has struggled on the power play, going 1-for-11 with the man advantage.
Their big line of Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Brandon Saad has likewise been slow to produce offensively. Hossa was the only one of the three with a point in Game 4, that an assist, while Toews and Saad are without a point in four games.
But those are relatively small issues in large part because Crawford has been so steady.
“He’s maturing," Quenneville said. "I think he’s had a real good start to the season. He’s had some good experience in big games and that consistency that he’s had as well as Ray and our goaltending situations has been the strength of our team. Just moving forward to the next shot and the next opportunity and being square and keeping a level disposition.”
3hESPN stats & info
2dScott Burnside and Craig Custance