NHL Playoffs: Blackhawks vs. Ducks goaltending preview

Examining the matchup between goaltenders as the Blackhawks and Ducks prepare to face each other in the Western Conference Finals. Spoiler alert: the Hawks have the advantage.

Heading into the weekend, Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman declared that goaltender Corey Crawford "doesn't get the credit he deserves". This is probably as accurate an assessment of the Blackhawks' netminder as you will find as they prepare to head into the Western Conference Finals against the Anaheim Ducks and their own goaltender, Frederik Andersen.

The Ducks haven't had to deal with the type of "controversy" that the Hawks have faced between the pipes in these first couple of rounds. John Gibson might have been the guy, but an injury heading into the playoffs cost him that opportunity. At one point, legitimate questions began to emerge as to whether or not we'd see Crawford back in the crease before the Hawks were all said and done this postseason. Of course, there was also a point where their play in front of any netminder raised questions about whether or not they'd even be around to see a conference final.

After surrendering a trio of first period goals in Game 1 against the Nashville Predators and six more in Game 2, Corey Crawford didn't see action again until Game 6 against Nashville. He helped the Hawks to clinch the series and escape the first round, and he was brilliant in Round 2 as the Blackhawks swept the Minnesota Wild, allowing just eight goals total across the four games in the series.

And yet, he still faces the criticism that has plagued his tenure with the Blackhawks. Almost as unfortunate a position as starting quarterback for the Chicago Bears, Crawford is in a spot where he's never going to be completely clear of that type of scrutiny. But heading into the Western Conference Finals against the Ducks, there shouldn't be any debating the fact that Crawford's presence in net is what is best for the Chicago Blackhawks. But do the Hawks have an advantage there over the Ducks?

From a pure statistical standpoint, with no context whatsoever, one would reach the conclusion that it would, in fact, be the Ducks with the advantage in goal. Andersen has been solid across nine games, with a 1.96 goals against average and a .925 save percentage against figures of 2.60 and .916, respectively, for Crawford. Going back to the regular season, though, a bit different of a picture can be painted.

Crawford faced the 15th most shots in the league among goaltenders, while Andersen ranked 22nd in the league in that category. Crawford finished the season ranking 11th in the league in GAA (2.27) and sixth in save percentage, at .924. Andersen came in at 22nd in the league in shots against, 19th in GAA (2.38), and 23rd in save percentage (.914). And it's not as if Crawford had an overwhelming workload compared to Andersen, as he appeared in only three more games (stats via NHL.com).

Even in the playoffs Crawford has seen more of a workload than Andersen, despite appearing in two less games. At nearly 32 shots against per game, he's seen about five more shots per contest than Andersen. In Andersen's case, it also helped that the Ducks' second round matchup came against one of the league's worst possession teams, both in the regular season and in the playoffs, in the Calgary Flames.

In terms of specific danger level of shots faced, Crawford bested Andersen both in high danger and medium danger shot save percentage. In the case of low danger save percentage, Crawford was no. 2 in the league among goaltenders in Sv%, a figure which should essentially be high for everyone, while Andersen was 17th. It's not a tremendous disparity, but something to keep in mind. Crawford's higher save percentage across the board comes with over 30 shots per game against against about 26 for Andersen, when the total body of work this season is taken into account (stats via war-on-ice).

Digging a bit deeper, we can begin to find a clear advantage for Crawford, though. During the regular season, Crawford went for 39 quality starts against Andersen's 32. He had just four Really Bad Starts (RBS) against nine for Andersen. He had a Goals Saved Above Average of nearly 16, while Andersen actually fell just on the negative side (stats via Hockey Reference).

As far as specific tendencies are concerned, if the Blackhawks are aiming for success against Andersen, it should come high on the blocker side. That's where they attacked Pekka Rinne in Round 1, and that's where Andersen allowed the most goals, both in the regular season and the playoffs. Ten of his 18 goals allowed in these playoffs have come in that location. He also allowed 18 shots through the five hole during the regular season, a spot which the Hawks found some success against Devan Dubnyk in Round 2.

In Crawford's case, it's all about the glove. While he's improved in that regard, especially since it became a national narrative during the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals, he still allowed more goals to that high glove side than anywhere else. Rebounds will also be more of a factor than it will for Andersen, as almost twice as high a percentage of Crawford's goals against came off of rebounds than was the case for Andersen.

The Blackhawks and Ducks head into their Western Conference Finals matchup in featuring goalies with vastly different styles. At the same time, they're also extremely close statistically, making a clear advantage very difficult to determine. At the end of the day, though, the Blackhawks are rolling with a netminder coming off of the best regular season of his career and having won a Stanley Cup. He's often times played in more difficult circumstances, with an inconsistent team in front of him for much of the spring.

If there's an advantage to be had, it likely has to go to the Hawks and their $6 million man, in Corey Crawford. Even with the shaky start, he's rebounded and reestablished himself as one of the league's best between the pipes. As goes Crawford, so go the Blackhawks.

Randy Holt is a staff writer for Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RandallPnkFloyd.