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Blackhawks Tue Apr 22 2014
It's no secret Corey Crawford receives a lot of unwanted and unnecessary criticism with the way he performs in between the pipes for the Hawks. Sure, the occasional softy floats by in the middle of December, or perhaps he's exposed on his glove side from time to time. But regardless of your thoughts on the Hawks' starter, he shows up when needed and he's a far cry away from what used to be in town.
It's fun for fans of the opposing team to chant "CRAW-FORD! CRAW-FORD!" in other towns, only because the cadence fits. But when you have a goaltender stop 34 shots in what pretty much was a must-win game against the St. Louis Blues, it's hard not to root for a guy who fights off more shots his way in criticism than pucks.
The Hawks came into Monday night, down 2-0 against the rival Blues, but cut the series lead in half with a 2-0 win at the United Center. The Hawks managed to keep their composure, as opposed to the first two games, by limiting their penalties out of retaliation, as well as limiting the Blues from scraping their skulls from the boards due to blind hits.
Instead it was the Blues who were called for two penalties -- a boarding call on Maxim Lapierre for his hit on Sheldon Brookbank and a Roman Polak cross-check on Brandon Saad, both in the second period, and both of which produced no goals -- that at least managed to melt four minutes of clock despite the outcome.
The Hawks proved that a level head equaled a level playing field against a foe that specializes in reeking havoc against its opponents on the ice. The first two games of the series witnessed the Hawks playing far out of character: frustration and retaliation on meaningless jabs. Instead, in Game 3, the Hawks used their strength (speed) to beat the Blues after only 60 minutes. Yes, you can thank Crawford for allowing more rest before that conference call the next morning.
The Blues played great hockey too, meaning they were able to throw 34 shots on Crawford versus only the 24 faced by Ryan Miller. About halfway through the third period, with only a one-goal lead, it appeared the Blues were beginning to use that extra gear against the Hawks, which worked so well against them the first two games.
No need to remind you of those results, but let's just say the Hawks relinquished leads in both of those games by a combined 1 minute, 52 seconds; it was enough to make you drink Malort to kill the pain. And while the Hawks still could have done a better job of clearing their own zone (Johnny Oduya nearly gave up the lead a few times for the Hawks), they found that missing gear to possess the puck the final five minutes of action to escape a potential 3-0 deficit.
Brent Seabrook missed his first of three games from his suspension, the hit he put on David Backes, so Brookbank was paired up with Duncan Keith, and certainly played much better than he did last season during the playoffs. Also, head coach Joel Quenneville moved Patrick Kane to the top line with Jonathan Toews and Bryan Bickell, which probably will stick the remainder of the series.
It was a nice win for the Hawks, but it really wasn't until those last five minutes, give or take a few turnovers in their zone, that they actually possessed the puck with confidence, and was able to get a pass that wasn't along the boards. If the Hawks are able to find that chemistry from here on out, they'll be a hard out.
Crawford notched his third career playoff shutout in Game 3, and really didn't have to make the sprawling saves he did in games one and two. If the Hawks are able to continue to block shots (Niklas Hjalmarsson and Michal Handzus played great on the kill, too), possess the puck better in their own zone and try limit Crawford to anything less than facing 30 shots on goal, they should tie this series up before moving back west to baseball country.