The Chicago Blackhawks lost to the St. Louis Blues on Sunday night, perhaps putting an end to their dream of a Central Division title. While we still have a bit of a ways to go before it is ultimately determined how that will shake out in terms of actual seating, it wasn't an overly disappointing loss in the way that this team has done against mediocre teams in the past month. Just an underwhelming one to a key opponent.
As disappointing as it is, the Blackhawks can continue to find positives in the play of their goaltender, who has been absolutely phenomenal this season. While they likely won't have too many individual players being nominated for league-wide accolades at the end of the year this season, you could very easily nominate Corey Crawford as the Most Valuable Player on this Blackhawks team. And you'd probably be hard-pressed to find an argument against him.
Even in the inconsistency that the Blackhawks have seen in the past month, as they've come up short against some pretty average-to-bad opponents, Corey Crawford has represented a bright spot. With the exception of a lull in the middle of the season, where he clearly struggled after a return from injury, he's been absolutely brilliant in turning in his best regular season since he took over as the full-time starter for the Blackhawks.
Crawford's 32-18-5 record marks the fourth time in five seasons that he's posted at least 30 wins on the year, with the lone exception being the lockout-shortened campaign in 2013. He still claimed victory in 19 of his 30 starts between the pipes that season.
Despite the fact that Crawford only has a pair of shutouts on the season, he still finds himself ranked sixth in the league in save percentage, at .924, and is 11th in the league in goals against average, with a 2.28 mark. But it's really how he's played since the sejond half of February that has really marked the most impressive stretch for any member of the Blackhawks this season.
Crawford went down with his lower body injury suffered at a concert in the second half of November, finding himself out of the lineup from November 29th until December 20th. Fresh off the injury, it was quite clear that he simply wasn't as comfortable in the crease as he was prior to missing time. His save percentage for the month of December (in the remaining four starts of the month) was just .887, with a 3.22 GAA.
He followed that up with a .917 save percentage in January and a .918 mark in February. After a February 22nd loss against the Boston Bruins, Crawford went on a stretch in which he shutout the Hawks' next opponent, allowed one goal four times and two goals twice over a six-game stretch. The next three was that incredibly poor stretch for the Hawks, in which Crawford surrendered four goals in three of his next four starts, but at the same time represented an only reason that the games were even as close as they were, with the Blackhawks committing an inordinate amount of turnovers in each of those games.
Sandwiched in between that short stretch was the goalie win in Carolina, in which Crawford stopped 43 of 44. Coming out of that stretch, Crawford has turned it right back on. He's allowed just six goals combined across his last three, including a strong performance in which he kept the game intact against Vancouver, helping to seal a playoff spot for the Blackhawks back on Thursday. Sunday's performance against the Blues saw him allow only a pair of goals on 33 shots, with the Hawks just not having the offensive output to claim victory at home.
We're seeing the reason that the Blackhawks felt comfortable shelling out such a large contract to Crawford on full display here in the past couple of months. He's looked supremely confident in net, and the results on the ice are evident. A goaltender formerly known for his regular season mediocrity and tendency to elevate his play in the postseason has now found a way to do the latter in the regular season. Here's hoping this leads to another strong playoff showing, but either way, Crawford has already proven his worth to the Chicago Blackhawks this season.
Randy Holt is a staff writer for Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RandallPnkFloyd.