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Corey Crawford, Chicago’s most under-appreciated athlete, delivers yet again for Blackhawks

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In case you haven’t been paying attention, Crawford has been doing this his entire career.

Vegas Golden Knights v Chicago Blackhawks - Game Four Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images

It’s appropriate that one of the most underrated, under-appreciated and criminally disrespected players in Chicago sports history has to turn in that spectacular of a performance to silence critics for a night or two.

Corey Crawford was a magician Sunday night against the Golden Knights, stopping 48 of the 49 shots in a 3-1 Blackhawks victory that preserves their season for at least one more game.

The Golden Knights finished with 96 shot attempts, 41 scoring chances and 14 high-danger chances, according to Natural Stat Trick. Nineteen of the 49 shots on goal came from the slot, according to Sportlogiq.

Crawford’s teammates offered their plaudits postgame:

“He was outstanding,” Matthew Highmore said. “He made countless saves, whether it be rebound chances, slot shots, backdoor. He was great for us, just settling us down back there. He was just fantastic. That’s what a good goalie does, and he certainly is that.”

“It’s as good as he’s ever been,” Duncan Keith said. ”They had a lot of shots and he made himself big every time. Wasn’t a whole lot of rebounds laying around, either. That was a big part of that. He was our best player [Sunday night].”

Keith’s assertion Crawford was at his zenith is particularly interesting, considering how often the goaltender has been under siege in the Blackhawks’ net for the last three or four seasons. And there were plenty of moments during the height of Chicago’s dominance in the first half of the 2010s when Crawford withstood a barrage of shots and scoring chances while the skaters in front of him flailed helplessly at their opponents.

That’s what makes so much of the discussion around Crawford so infuriating. His name is never lifted as high as the likes of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane or Keith or anyone else who was so vital to the multiple Stanley Cup championships won by this franchise in the prior decade despite his contributions being every bit as crucial. And when the franchise’s fortunes turned south, it was always Crawford at or near the top of the list of those being responsible for the shortcomings.

Crawford has made a career of being at his best when this teammates aren’t.

According to Hockey Reference, there have been 29 regular season games where Crawford faced at least 40 shots on goal. Chicago was won 19 of those games, with Crawford boasting a .944 save percentage and 19-4-6 record in such games.

But Sunday’s one-sided affair is probably the most absurd Blackhawks victory that came in spite of their own shortcomings because Crawford saved their collective asses.

The flowchart of Game 4 from Natural Stat Trick is downright comical:

It’s not the first time the ski-slope effect has appeared in a game the Blackhawks have won because of Crawford’s heroics, though.

The high mark from the regular season is probably this dazzling 48-save shutout in a 2-0 win over Montreal on March 16, 2019:

Being from the Montreal area, Crawford seemed to save his best for that city, as indicated by a 32-save performance in a 4-1 Chicago win this January:

It’s not just the regular season, either. Here’s the flowchart from a 2-1 Chicago win over the Blues in Game 3 of the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Keep in mind that Chicago already trailed 2-0 in this series:

In Game 3 of the 2015 Western Conference semifinals against the Wild, the Blackhawks scored a first-period goal then appeared to leave the ice and let Crawford handle the rest in a 1-0 win.

And just for fun, here’s Crawford’s stat line from the 2015 Stanley Cup Final:

  • 4-2 record
  • .938 save percentage
  • 10 goals against in 6 games (goals-against average of roughly 1.69)

This is not to absolve Crawford from all his mistakes in the first round against Vegas and the one prior against Edmonton. Vegas has scored multiple goals Crawford should have saved — and he’d say as much. But the violent swings of the pendulum toward “trade, release, dump Crawford” or “they kept the wrong goaltender” always arrive when Crawford makes the tiniest of mistakes.

Just wait and see.

Should the Blackhawks get bounced from this series in Game 5 on Tuesday, the same calls for Crawford’s job will re-emerge, the same detractors will label him overrated and the best goalie Chicago has had in at least 30 years will again have his mountainous contributions forgotten by the same people whose jaws remain hanging open from every impossible save Crawford made probable on Sunday night.