Corey Crawford has spent a long time in the Chicago Blackhawks organization, and after a Stanley Cup victory in 2013, the long wait paid off for the 28-year-old goaltender.
Over the past decade, the Blackhawks haven’t been known for having an elite goaltender or even holding on to one for very long. When the Chicago did have a great goaltender in Antti Niemi, the franchise was unable to keep him. That has led to insecurity among fans over the goaltending position, and has made fans more judgmental and critical of the whoever is between the pipes.
Crawford’s career has been plagued by doubt from the beginning. Reporters and fans, who were told to expect big things from Crawford, weren’t impressed from Crawford’s rare starts in 2006 and 2008. Crawford’s standing did not improve after the release of Niemi. ‘Hawks fans loved Niemi, and there weren’t happy knowing they had to put their trust in an unproven goaltender.
Crawford did improve his game, however, posting good numbers in the two seasons after the 2010 Stanley Cup victory. But his dismal performance in the playoffs, especially in 2012, prevented popular opinion of him from turning positive.
This season was the best of Crawford’s career. He went 19-5-5 with a .926 save percentage and a 1.94 goals against average. It was good enough to share the William M. Jennings trophy – given to the goaltender(s) who allowed the fewest goals during the regular season – with teammate Ray Emery.
Crawford only performed better in the playoffs, leading the NHL in goals against average (1.84) and posted a record of 16-7-2. Yet reporters and fans were quick to throw Crawford under the bus for the Blackhawks’ loses in the postseason, and they were wrong to do so.
Goaltending is the most important aspect in playoff hockey. You don’t win without it. Crawford was not perfect, but he undoubtedly played better than both Jonathan Quick and Tuukka Rask in the postseason. He’s not the flashiest goaltender, but he’s the most consistent, and that’s what matters in crunch time.
Crawford is the Chicago Blackhawks’ breakout player of the year, and I would even argue he is the team’s regular and postseason MVP. He has faced an uphill battle since he was drafted, and he has never fully gotten the recognition he deserves for improving his game.
Despite all that, he did not allow criticism to get him down, and now he’s a Stanley Cup champion.