Crawford still proving doubters wrong

CHICAGO -- Corey Crawford has been facing doubts about his ability as a playoff goaltender ever since the Chicago Blackhawks exited the playoffs in the first round last season.

Fans blamed Crawford for the team’s demise due to a couple of soft goals he allowed to the Phoenix Coyotes in the 2012 postseason, and they pleaded for management to replace him heading into this season. The consensus was Crawford couldn’t lead the Blackhawks to another Stanley Cup.

Crawford understood heading into this season it was a make-or-break year for him, and Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville has acknowledged there were questions surrounding Crawford.

But as the Blackhawks won their third consecutive playoff series and punched their ticket into the Stanley Cup finals on Saturday, Crawford proved his doubters wrong once again.

Crawford made 33 saves and outdueled Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick in a 4-3 double-overtime victory to clinch the Western Conference finals on Saturday. With the performance, Crawford improved to 12-5, with a 1.74 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage.

Crawford put last season’s struggles behind him long ago, but he did say Saturday he wasn’t going to let last year’s playoffs define him.

“It’s just something you learn from,” Crawford said. “Everyone gets beat in their career. It depends on what you do after that.

“I was able to learn from some things the last couple playoffs.”

One of the lessons Crawford put to use this season was finding a way to refocus after something didn’t go his way. Whether it’s been a rough game or a bad goal, he’s shaken it off and moved ahead.

In Saturday’s win, Crawford had to get over allowing a game-tying goal with 9.4 seconds remaining in the third period and regroup for overtime. Crawford actually had to keep it together even longer, as the game went into two overtimes. He made 13 consecutive saves before Patrick Kane ended the long night with a goal at 11:40 of the second overtime.

“It was a little frustrating, a little angry being so close to moving on and having it taken away,” Crawford said. “We’ve bounced back from so much. That was just another hurdle, another thing we had to go through to get to our goal. The more experience you gain, the more you learn from certain situations; you definitely hope to pass by it, I think, a little bit better.”

The Blackhawks are no longer surprised what Crawford has done for them. He’s been a rock for them throughout the regular season and into the playoffs.

“He’s been our best player,” Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw said. “He’s there to stop the pucks when we need him. He’s great handling the puck, as well. He’s had some great breakout passes and unbelievable saves.”

Quenneville has stood behind Crawford all season and was pleased to see him emerge again on Saturday.

“You've got to commend him on how he's played all year long,” Quenneville said. “I think the consistency, his approach where he just moves forward to see the next situation, the next shot -- unflappable in that area. He's moved us along here. Guys have responded in front of him.”

“But Corey has been rock solid,” he said. “I think his rebound control, his movement, you know, handling the puck ... [he has] really done a nice job in this playoff.”