Crawford envisioning next Cup run
|Many seasons spent in the minors helped Crawford develop the mental toughness that allowed him to remain focused during last season's run to the Stanley Cup.|
It became one of the biggest storylines of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final and was dissected by goaltending experts on television and in writing.
The Boston Bruins scored a large portion of their goals against the Chicago Blackhawks to the glove side of goalie Corey Crawford, including all five in Chicago's 6-5 overtime victory in Game 4 at TD Garden.
The discussion was extensive and easily could have caused Crawford to crumble if his focus got entangled in a "glove side" mind trap. Instead, he didn't flinch. Crawford backstopped the Blackhawks to their second Stanley Cup in four seasons -- the first with him in net -- and quieted his doubters.
"Looking back, I think it was kind of amazing how much pressure was put on him from the outside, whether he felt the pressure or not," Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith told NHL.com. "There was obviously lots of talk and a lot of pressure was put on him. I just think it shows you his mental resolve to stick with it. He's really grown over the last couple of years into an elite goaltender."
The ordeal actually helped Crawford instead of wrecking him.
After combining with Ray Emery to earn the William Jennings Trophy for fewest goals allowed last season, Crawford finished the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 16-7 record and led the League with a 1.84 goals-against average.
Former Blackhawks goaltending coach Stephane Waite, Crawford's close confidant, deserves some of the credit. The bulk of it, however, resides with Crawford, who is 1-1-1 in three starts thus far and will get the start Saturday against the Buffalo Sabres at United Center in the second half of a back-to-back (8 p.m. ET, NHLN-US).
"It was a great experience," Crawford told NHL.com. "Just being in those games, with all the intensity … it just feels like it's a lot easier to prepare for games after going through that sort of situation."
Was there any personal satisfaction from overcoming the big glove hubbub?
"No," he said. "That's not the reason I want to win. The reason I want to win is for the guys in the room here. We battled so hard and I'd worked my whole life to get to that point and win a Stanley Cup, so I couldn't have cared less about getting back at whatever people said about me. That was a non-factor, a non-issue."
There were other things on Crawford's mind anyway, such as celebrating the title and planning for his day with the Cup in his hometown of Chateauguay, Quebec, a suburb of Montreal. The big day was Sept. 2, but got even bigger when it started off with Crawford signing a six-year contract extension.
His current contract expires after this season, meaning Crawford and the Blackhawks could be together until he's 35. It came as a surprise move to some, particularly the length, but the contract also sent a strong message.
"It shows they have confidence in me and they believe in me to be the guy," Crawford said. "I want to be able to contribute and deliver for another championship. That's our goal here in this organization, is to be winners consistently. That's really far ahead and we have to take it a day at a time, but that's what we're building towards … to win multiple ones."
Three years ago the Blackhawks had a chance to keep another young Stanley Cup champion goalie but let Antti Niemi leave as a free agent. Instead, during a cap crunch following the 2010 title, general manager Stan Bowman opted to match an offer sheet signed by restricted free agent defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson and open the door to the NHL for Crawford.
He didn't need long to ascend to the starting role as a rookie, when he went 33-18-6 with four shutouts, a 2.30 GAA and .917 save percentage in the 2010-11 season. After hitting a few speed bumps during his second season, including a stinging defeat against the Phoenix Coyotes in the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Crawford again strengthened his resolve for the 2012-13 season.
The championship and new contract that followed boosted his confidence level even more.
"My whole career I've worked pretty hard, especially at the pro level," he said. "I've learned a lot working hard in practice and getting my conditioning to the point where it needs to be. Earlier in my career I wasn't the best-conditioned goalie. So I worked on that too. I was building as a player and as a person throughout my career, so it's nice to see it come back and get some reward for all that."
His Blackhawks teammates also were pleased.
Not only do they have an elite goalie as part of the long-term picture, but Crawford's laid-back personality and dry sense of humor aren't going anywhere. His peers also haven't forgotten the five seasons Crawford spent toiling in the American Hockey League, waiting and wondering if he'd ever get his shot.
"He's had a good start to his NHL career and he certainly deserves the contract," forward Patrick Sharp said. "He's proven that he can be not only a starting goalie in the League but a Stanley Cup-winning goalie. Those were some big games he's played in. He spent a lot of time in the minors, which I'm sure he's proud of, and then he graduated to the NHL level. He's just chipped away to improve every year."
Crawford also has a realistic chance to make the roster for Canada at the 2014 Winter Olympics. He was invited to Canada's summer orientation camp, but said he isn't losing sleep thinking about it.
He's never represented Canada at an international event, but right now his sights are set more on silver than gold -- dreaming of re-enacting the victory celebration that takes place immediately after winning the Stanley Cup.
"[Winning] just makes you want to win again," Crawford said. "That feeling, when the last three or four seconds were ticking down [in Game 6] was probably the best feeling I've ever had playing hockey. I just want to repeat that. I want to do it all over and enjoy having the guys skate back for the last game of the year, coming back cheering and celebrating. That was unbelievable."