CHICAGO | This was the ultimate redemption game for Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford.
Fresh from admitting responsibility for allowing tying goals in the last two minutes of consecutive playoff games in St. Louis, Crawford on Monday had an even more challenging task. He had to nurse a 1-0 lead all the way from early in the first period to within 20 seconds of the final horn in a game the Hawks couldn’t afford to lose.
And the Blues upped the ante by outshooting the Hawks 34-25, a virtually unheard-of advantage this season.
There would be no last-second goal allowed in this game simply through Crawford’s sheer willpower as the Hawks got back into the Western Conference quarterfinals with a 2-0 victory over the Blues.
The aggressive Blues, desperately desiring what the defending Stanley Cup champions have, threw everything against their hosts in the third period. Crawford, the last man standing, denied them all. The Hawks are still down 2-1 in the series.
Crawford’s feat was almost more mental than physical in blocking out the reality one mistake could send the Hawks careening toward a premature season end.
“I’m just going shot-by-shot,” he said through the post-game exhaustion, hardly appearing to savor his third career postseason shutout.
“It’s all I could do the whole game is worry about the next one and focus on next shot and stop that. I don’t want anything else going through my mind through that hockey game.”
Hawks captain Jonathan Toews, whose goal with 4:10 transpired in the first stood up until Marcus Kruger’s empty-netter with 20 seconds to go, said he has rarely seen Crawford better.
“He was huge,” said Toews. “I’ve seen him play some really great games before where the crowd’s chanting his name. It’s something to remember for anyone that’s out there on the ice. It’s pretty amazing when a player has that effect on his team on everyone in the building. Pretty amazing for him to play under that pressure and to win us that game.”
Crawford said he was a little bit lower in his stance as an adjustment from the games in St. Louis. He tried to give credit to others.
“It was another hard game, another tight game,” he said. :They came hard again. Our ‘D’ played unreal. They kept them to the outside clearing rebounds, blocking shots and battling in the corners, coming up with pucks late in the game in the corners to get the puck out of our zone.”
Both Toews and center Michal Handzus admitted the Blues put withering pressure on the Hawks in the third period.
Crawford benefited from noted line tinkerer Joel Quenneville dipping into 2013 playoff history: putting Toews and Patrick Kane on the same line, adding last spring’s postseason hero Bryan Bickell to round out the threesome. The loaded line was a necessity after Hawks forwards tallied just one goal in the first two games.
The strategy paid immediate dividends. Toews blasted a shot from beyond the left circle past Blues goalie Ryan Miller in the first.
Toews only learned of his reunion with Kane just before gametime. He scored his first goal in a month. His 21st career postseason goal was also his seventh game-winner.
“It felt good,” he said. “Either way, whether you’re scoring or not, you want to be out there with your linemates creating offense. I feel like I’ve been doing that this series.
“Obviously, there’s room for improvement. It was nice to get on the board and get that personal confidence going that you can make a difference the way you’re expected to.”