GEORGE CASTLE: Biggest NHL target on Crawford's mask, pads

2013-10-01T22:30:00Z 2013-10-02T18:38:06Z GEORGE CASTLE: Biggest NHL target on Crawford's mask, padsGeorge Castle on the Blackhawks nwitimes.com
October 01, 2013 10:30 pm  • 

CHICAGO | The glitziest Blackhawks commercial hasn’t been produced, but it should go like this.

Tough guys Andrew Shaw (at the point), Bryan Bickell, Brandon Bollig and 6-foot-6 Jimmy Hayes are out in front, challenging all comers. Behind them are Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa, sporting battle-tested expressions with sticks ready for business.

Backing up the shooters are capable blueliners Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya. Finally, as the last line of defense, is goalie Corey Crawford.

Of all the Hawks, the man with the 1.88 goals-against average in the playoffs last spring has the biggest target affixed to his hide. If the Hawks are now every opponent’s Stanley Cup Finals, the only way they’ll truly get a bite out of the champs is to get the puck past Crawford.

“Teams are definitely going to be ready for us, and I think that’s only going to make us better,” Crawford said. “We’re playing high intensity games every night.”

Crawford and his teammates worked up an extra sweat without any honeymoon from their championship-banner raising Tuesday night. The Washington Capitals were first among a league-full of Hawks-envious foes. And they hit the bulls-eye more than expected before falling, 6-4.

Where was that stingy penalty-kill from that championship season? Consigned to the history books as the Capitals nailed three power-play goals against Crawford. The Caps' Mikhail Grabovski tallied a hat trick, including two power-play goals.

Making matters worse, Joakim Nordstrom’s delay-of-game penalty right on the heels of Patrick Sharp’s interference-on-goalie infraction gave the Caps a 5-on-3 advantage for nearly 90 seconds going into the last three minutes. Somehow Crawford and his diminished band of defenders fought that off, then endured another man disadvantage when Washington pulled goalie Braden Holtby.

The bizarre finish included Marian Hossa being awarded the Hawks’ final goal when he was pulled down by two defenders while charging the empty net.

Crawford thus bent, but he didn’t break. That’s another sign of a top goalie.

“It was definitely a tough one to start,” he said. “They brought the pace and one of the best power plays I think in the league right now. We gave up too many (power-play) goals.

“It’s funny, that it came down to it where we were able to kill it off. We got some big blocks and some good pressure to clear the zone. Our guys did amazing at the end, 5-on-3.”

Imagine, six more months of this sandwiched around the Olympic break. Nobody’s giving the Hawks an opening cakewalk to celebrate the 2013 Stanley Cup.

Fans turned the United Center Show into thousands of points of light a half hour before the banner ceremony as red and white flashers distributed to most of the 22,158 blinked on and off in a darkened arena. Hawks chairman Rocky Wirtz – meriting a standing ovation -- and coach Joel Quenneville drew the largest cheers before the Stanley Cup banner was hoisted next to its 2010 counterpart, now one of a quintet of Hawks title flags in the UC rafters.

By plowing through similar minefields like Tuesday, Crawford will have a lot to do with whether a sixth banner goes up in a year.

“We take pride in it (picks to repeat as champs),” he said. “We want to be No. 1, to get to the Stanley Cup. Last year we never got ahead of ourselves and we’re not going to do that this year.”

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at DGemsNet@aol.com.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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