Corey Crawford stepping up at key moments for Blackhawks

Having won the crease back from Scott Darling, Corey Crawford has shown against the Minnesota Wild why it was his all along.

There may have been a point somewhere against the Nashville Predators where we all wondered when we might see Corey Crawford between the pipes again for the Chicago Blackhawks in these Stanley Cup Playoffs. With Scott Darling serving as the goaltender in relief, and doing an outstanding job, Joel Quenneville passed over the ideal opportunity to start him in Game 6 in order to continue to roll with the Lemont native.

Yet, as fate would have it, Crawford worked his way back into the net after a slow start by the Blackhawks that resulted in a 3-1 deficit. What transpired afterward is well known, as Crawford stopped all 13 shots he faced for the remainder of the night, allowing the Blackhawks to work back to a 4-3 lead in the game, and the overall series victory.

Against the Minnesota Wild, Crawford has shown exactly why he should have always been the guy. He showed it in a key third period in Game 1, and came back with an even better performance in Game 2, both wins for the home team.

The Blackhawks worked their way up to a 3-0 lead in the opening game of the series against the Wild. Perhaps far too predictably, they took the foot off the gas and allowed the Wild to creep back into it. With the blue line opening the slot for Wild players to score at close range, Crawford paid the price in allowing the Wild to even things up at three. But when the Hawks needed him to come up big in the third period, having grabbed a lead at the end of the second, he did just that.

In what was a relatively even possession frame, the Wild managed a Corsi of 17 for the period. Just eight of those shots found their way to the net, but Crawford stopped each and every one of them, allowing the Hawks to take a 1-0 edge in the series. On Sunday night, Crawford was back at it again, stepping up in the big moments when the Blackhawks needed him the most.

Jonathan Toews scored a shorthanded goal late in the second period that registered as the first tally of the game. A team that has allowed the opposing team to respond with a score far too quickly after a mark of their own, the Blackhawks provided such an opportunity just moments afterwards, with Kyle Brodziak finding an opportunity to even things up on a breakaway. Crawford stoned him and kept the lead intact.

That sequence was followed by another dangerous one, in which Crawford stopped a shot from the point and then stoned Zach Parise on the doorstep multiple times, still keeping that 1-0 lead on the scoreboard. That allowed Patrick Kane to do his thing and send the Blackhawks up 2-0. Without Crawford making those key stops, you're looking at a 1-1 game and perhaps a completely different third period.

It was a game that featured Crawford sustain a shot off the mask and bounce right back in order to continue keeping the Wild off the board. On 15 third period shots, the Wild were unable to find the back of the net. As such, the Hawks worked their way to a 3-1 lead on a beauty of a shot from Patrick Sharp, followed by the ol' 1-on-3 empty net goal from Patrick Kane.

But without Crawford doing his thing after the Toews goal and in the third period, we could be looking at a completely different end to this game. Instead, Crawford steps up in two consecutive third periods, including stopping 30 of 31 in Game 2, and allows the Blackhawks to hold serve at home and earn the 2-0 lead in the series.

Does Scott Darling do that? There's no way to tell. It's possible. He played very well, with even the defense being largely to blame when he was pulled in Game 6. Nonetheless, this is exactly why Corey Crawford has always been the guy and will continue to be the no. 1 netminder for the Chicago Blackhawks. He's a proven quantity with a history of stepping up in key moments. He did it during the regular season when the Hawks sputtered in February and March. He's doing it now.

There isn't any reason to think that he won't continue to do it.

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