Coming off a 2011-12 season in which he received a bulk of the blame for the Blackhawks’ first-round playoff exit to the Phoenix Coyotes, Crawford acknowledged he was out to prove something this season.
“I feel like I need to kind of redeem myself a little bit,” Crawford said during training camp. “I’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting and finally it’s here, so I’m getting excited and ready to go.”
That was much pretty much the end of Crawford addressing his mission for the 2013 season. From the season opener against the Los Angeles Kings to the final regular-season home game on Friday, Crawford hasn’t turned his focus away from what’s just ahead of him.
And so far, Crawford’s season-long plan has worked to near perfection. With Friday’s 3-1 win over the Calgary Flames, Crawford improved to 19-5-5 on the season and lowered his goals-against average to 1.94 and save percentage to. 926. He’s tied for third in the league in goals-against average and ranks fifth in save percentage
“Just playing in the moment,” Crawford explained on Friday. “We haven’t gotten ahead of ourselves all year. Now’s not the time do that. We feel good right now. We’re just focused on what we have at the task at hand. We still have another game [Saturday.] We can’t start getting complacent or taking things lightly. We got to keep the same pace and carry into the playoffs.”
If Friday was Crawford’s final regular-season game, he and the Blackhawks like the way he’s played leading into the playoffs. He stopped all 14 shots he faced against the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday after replacing Ray Emery, who was injured in the first period, and followed that up by making 25 saves on 26 shots on Friday.
“I thought he was outstanding,” Quenneville said of Crawford’s game against the Flames. “I thought he was sharp, quick, some high-quality opportunities against him. He seemed to be very sharp, anticipated well, real good.
“I think he has a good finish. I thought the last couple of games (were) outstanding. I think that’s one area where we’ve been pleased all year long and our consistency of our goaltending has been a strength to our team.”
The major difference Crawford has noticed in his own game in 2013 from the past few seasons is his ability to begin a game locked in. That wasn’t something he could do consistently as a rookie or last season.
“I think especially this year from the start of the game I think most of the games I was ready,” Crawford said. “Where last year it took me a little bit to get into a game sometimes. I’m not talking all year, maybe games here and there. Where this year I’ve felt most of the games right from the start where I was ready to go. It’s definitely something I improved in my game.”
Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane said Friday Crawford probably received too much of the blame for the team’s downfall last season. Kane believed Crawford would achieve in the playoffs that redemption he’s been looking for since the beginning of the year.
“He’s had a great season,” Kane said. “I know a couple tough breaks last year in the playoffs. It’s going to happen. I’m sure he wasn’t happy with it, and he wants to prove some people wrong and prove probably to himself more than anyone he can be the goaltender. We have all the confidence in the world in him. I’m not worried about that.”