Corey Crawford took it upon himself to say he needed to be better if the Chicago Blackhawks were going to mount a comeback against the St. Louis Blues after blowing leads and losing in overtime in Games 1 and 2.
"We're not going to win if I'm going to play like that," Crawford said Saturday in St. Louis after giving up four goals on 31 shots.
It was an honest self-evaluation and a personal challenge all wrapped up in one statement. It also earned him a rare sitdown with coach Joel Quenneville on Sunday.
Quenneville usually leaves all the goalie adjustments to goaltending coach Steve Weeks. He's the expert. He knows better how to deal with Crawford's potentially fragile state of mind after giving up the game-tying goal with 6.4 seconds left in regulation in Game 2 only to then give up the winner 5:50 into overtime.
Quenneville is a former defenseman. He doesn't think or act like a goalie. But this was different. This was dire. This was time for him to step in.
The Blackhawks were one loss away from being in a disastrous position in the best-of-7 Western Conference First Round series against the Blues.
Only three teams in NHL history have come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a series. Everyone knew Crawford's performance in Game 3 on Monday would decide if the Blackhawks were going to eventually have to try to become the fourth.
"We were having a chat, and I was basically commending him for accepting that responsibility for what he said," Quenneville said.
If Crawford was right to accept the blame Saturday, he deserved to accept the adulation Monday. He was spectacular with 34 saves in a 2-0 victory at United Center, a win that put the Blackhawks back in the series, now down 2-1 with Game 4 set for Wednesday (9:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS).
"The task at hand was pretty obvious, and the performance we needed was obvious too," Crawford said.
What also was obvious, at least to Crawford and likely Weeks and Quenneville, were the adjustments the goalie had to make. He had to become bigger in his crease so the puck would hit him flush and not just catch a piece of him, as it did on three Blues goals in Game 2.
Crawford had to come out and challenge more to cut off the shooting angles.
He had to be lower in his stance to give himself more side-to-side mobility.
And he had to stay in position, particularly when he was screened or when he had an idea a shot could be deflected.
On Monday, because of the score, 1-0 nearly wire-to-wire, he had to do all that while being perfect in every area, and he was.
"I thought it was a great response and tremendous effort by him," Quenneville said. "He was square. He was solid, in control. I thought his rebound effectiveness was as good as we've seen. So it was a real solid game for him and a tight one throughout."
Chicago scored 4:10 into the game when captain Jonathan Toews' snuck a shot from the top of the left circle through Ryan Miller's five-hole. That was all the Blackhawks would get until Marcus Kruger scored into an empty net with 19.2 seconds left.
Crawford faced 15 shots in the first period, including four on a Blues power play over the final 1:46. St. Louis was firing from everywhere on that power play, but Crawford stayed within himself, in position, and stopped three shots from long range and one from in tight.
"The quality was there," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "[Crawford] played really well."
Crawford faced eight shots in the second period before he was peppered with 11 in the third, including seven in a 10-minute stretch that saw the Blues attacking and the Blackhawks sitting back, playing too safe with a one-goal lead, almost giving St. Louis a chance to burn them again, just as it did in Games 1 and 2.
"I thought we were on our heels in the third," Blackhawks center Michal Handzus said. "They were coming hard and we didn't sustain any pressure on them."
But there would be no late-game hero for the Blues on Monday. Crawford made sure of that, particularly with 12:36 left when he stoned Chris Porter with his left pad. It might have been the save of the night, until he made a glove save on Pietrangelo's shot through traffic with 43 seconds remaining.
He made the save because he was in position to see the shot through Jaden Schwartz's screen.
"We survived the third period," Toews said. "Our goaltender was great."
Crawford knew he'd have to be. He said as much after Game 2.
He knew another so-so performance wouldn't be enough to stop a promising season and a chance at repeating as Stanley Cup champions from being on the ropes.
Thanks to Crawford, the Blackhawks don't have to worry about trying to become the fourth team to come back from a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-7 series in NHL history.
"He said it to himself before the game," Handzus said, "and he did it."
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