Blackhawks' Corey Crawford looks to make good
Best-of-seven Western Conference final between Chicago and Los Angeles is tied 1-1
Corey Crawford and Jonathan Quick both realize that even a Stanley Cup ring doesn't protect a goalie from criticism after a bad game.
Crawford and Quick also don't seem to care and perhaps that's why they're still chasing a second championship.
The NHL's last two Cup-winning goalies meet again when the Los Angeles Kings host the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 3 of the Western Conference final at Staples Center on Saturday night (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 7:30 p.m. ET).
Crawford realizes he's under a spotlight after the Blackhawks allowed six goals in the final 22 minutes of Game 2 and the Kings dramatically evened the series. Crawford was in net for five of them, matching his worst goals-against total of the season.
But Crawford has shrugged off criticism for his entire career with the Blackhawks and one bad playoff game isn't about to bother him. After two days off, he's confident the defending Stanley Cup champions can get back on top of their formidable game on the road.
"We've said a million times, not everything is going to go your way all the time," Crawford said. "So we've got to keep playing hard, keep playing the way you can."
Crawford acknowledged feeling personal disappointment "maybe a little bit after the game, but there's things I could fix easily. There was a couple of mistakes in my game. You look over it with the goalie coach and try to adjust what I did wrong."
The Blackhawks can't understand why doubt still exists about their goalie's credentials, but they realize it's out there. They're more focused on their own play in front of Crawford after Los Angeles embarrassed them.
"He comes back strong after every game," said Patrick Kane, who beat out Crawford for the Conn Smythe Trophy last summer.
"He's a great goaltender. A lot of us in here feel he's the best in the league."
'Matured in different ways'
Crawford has also been accountable. When the Blackhawks gave away two late leads during overtime defeats in their first two playoff games against St. Louis last month, he attempted to take the blame and bounced back with nine wins in his next 11 starts.
"I think every year, he has matured in different ways," Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville said. "I just think he's gotten better and better in how to approach a goal that he feels he could have had [or after] a tough loss.
"I think he has handled all situations. Whether it's a big win or coming off the last game, he moves forward in the proper fashion."
Crawford's save percentage (.926) and goals-against average (2.11) in the current post-season are the best in the conference. They're better than the numbers (.912, 2.70) posted by Quick, who won the Jennings Trophy for Los Angeles despite an unusual regular season, including a seven-week injury absence and an eventful trip to Sochi as the U.S. Olympic team's starting goalie.
Quick betrayed little frustration when the Kings gave up 17 goals in their first three playoff games this spring. He has been largely outstanding since then, which doesn't surprise his teammates.
"Good goalies just park it and move on to the next one," Kings defenceman Willie Mitchell said.
'One of the strongest teams mentally'
Los Angeles played mostly solid defence in front of Quick in its first two games in Chicago, particularly against Kane, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp. Kane has just one goal in the last seven games — although it was his series-clinching overtime beauty against Minnesota — while Sharp has only two goals in 14 playoff games.
The Kings harbour no illusions about the Blackhawks' motivation after their last loss.
"We have no doubt that [Game 2] hasn't affected them," Kings defenceman Drew Doughty said. "They're one of the strongest teams mentally in the league."
The Kings are just 3-3 at Staples Center in the post-season and the Blackhawks could get a boost from a trip to a road arena in which they always play in front of hundreds of red jersey-wearing fans. Game 3 won't decide the series, but two veteran playoff teams realize the stakes during Los Angeles' two home games over Memorial Day weekend.
"They're the defending Stanley Cup champions and we're well aware of how good a team they are, but also how they're able to battle adversity," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "If we had given up six unanswered goals, we know how we would want to respond to that."