Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford escaped Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final with a win Wednesday. His glove hand hasn't gotten off as easily.
After giving up all five goals in the 6-5 overtime win against the Boston Bruins on his glove side, and with 10 of 12 goals surrendered in the series going in to his left, Crawford's glove has become a hot topic and an easy target. It's one the Bruins certainly seem intent on exploiting, resuming with Game 5 Saturday at United Center (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS).
"Last series they were talking about my blocker," Crawford told the media with a smile Friday. "Both sides are bad, I guess."
GAA: 1.86 | SVP: 0.931
In an age when most goaltenders employ some variation of the butterfly, dropping to his knees to take away the bottom of the net but leaving the upper corners exposed, shooting high to either side is a common practice, and perhaps, as Crawford's teammates suggested, too much has been made of the trend toward his glove in this Cup Final.
But there must be something to the amount of pucks the Bruins have been directing to Crawford's left, and the fact most have not been of the pure "top corner" variety. The second and third goals of Game 1, for example, were more toward Crawford's hip. It exists among the many interesting style contrasts with Finnish-raised Boston counterpart Tuukka Rask, including some tendencies in Crawford's Quebec-bred butterfly that can create holes with the hands.
The first point is that Crawford's predisposition is to drop to his knees, accompanied by the glove and blocker. Yes, it's a move down into the butterfly that is common to almost every goaltender these days, but it's a save selection some goalies use more often -- and earlier -- than others as each tries to find the blend of blocking and reacting that works best for him in each situation.
Crawford tends to react more from his knees. In other words, he drops into his butterfly, then moves out to perimeter shots. That pulls his momentum down, forcing him to raise his glove back up against it, which causes both a delay and the kind of extra movement seen on the fourth Boston goal in Game 4, when Crawford actually dropped the glove on Patrice Bergeron's shot, then lifted it over the puck as it went by.
Crawford's other tendency, which is related to the default of straightening and dropping that left arm, is to pull off of shots just off his hip on the glove side. Rather than keeping his hands out in front of him -- a trait Finnish goalies like Rask are taught from a young age -- and simply leaning over and into these shots with both head and body behind the glove, Crawford has to either try to get a piece of it with his elbow, or turn his left shoulder away from shots off of that left hip as he tries to pull that straightened arm back. As he pulls the glove back, the left shoulder comes with it, and his torso rotates away from the puck, which not only opens space because he no longer is square to that shot, but it also pulls his head off the puck -- back and away -- and makes it harder to get it cleanly into his glove.
It's a catching motion that also helps explain how Crawford still has made several great glove saves up high, including a spectacular windmill stop on Brad Marchand in Game 1. Shots to the perimeter allow Crawford to get a glove on the puck without having to pull away as much, and the visual connection is stronger even if his hands and head aren't in front of his body because his shoulder no longer interferes with his sight lines.
All of which is a lot of nitpicking on one aspect of the game of a goaltender who is two wins from lifting the Stanley Cup, and not to say Crawford isn't capable of making the adjustment (or that his Blackhawks teammates aren't culpable for providing Bruins shooters the kind of time and space needed to target one area so extensively). In fact, Crawford had his glove out in front of him to stop a shot off the rush in overtime of Game 4, shortly before teammate Brent Seabrook secured the victory. But it makes for interesting comparisons to Rask, whose Finnish roots stress a forward, more active glove.
The contrasts certainly don't end there. Nor do the attempts to exploit the weaknesses.
Rask may react more from his skates, moving in straight lines to the puck with his glove rather than dropping to his knees first, but it's easy to argue that reactionary style cost him on the Jonathan Toews deflection in Game 4, when a toes-up stretch with the left pad below an outstretched glove created a hole a traditional butterfly drop would seal.
There also are interesting contrasts in where the two prefer to play.
Crawford has backed farther into the blue ice since late last season, when Chicago goalie coach Stephane Waite -- supported by video of Henrik Lundqvist and the efficiency of his goal line-out approach for the New York Rangers -- met with him to try and rein in some over-aggressiveness. It was a move, like ones made by Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo and several others, designed to make Crawford quicker by shortening the distance he had to cover from one save position to the next, or in recovering space after a save.
Interestingly, Luongo followed his move deeper into the crease by adjusting his glove position the following season, holding it higher like Lundqvist, who said it takes away the space a shooter sees when playing deeper while also making it more active.
Rask prefers to play farther out atop his crease, relying on excellent skating skills to help him recover the extra distance. Most North American goalies, including Crawford, move laterally with a T-push, opening his lead skate and pointing it in the direction he wants to go before pushing with the back leg; Rask utilizes a shuffle more often.
That means he doesn't open his lead leg like a T-push does, instead keeping the skates pointed toward the puck even as he moves laterally. So if the play quickly goes back the other way, Rask already has an edge to push back across with, whereas a T-push would require him to first turn and close that lead leg before using it to push back.
For all the focus on Crawford's glove, the Blackhawks managed to take Rask out of his comfort zone in Game 4, pushing him farther back into the blue ice than he prefers with increased traffic around the net. And just like Crawford will have to make an adjustment for Game 5, so does Rask.Each are subtle, as are most of these detailed differences in their styles, but as Game 4 proved, in the Stanley Cup Final, small things can go a long way toward big goals.