CHICAGO - Chicago Blackhawks players heard questions about Corey Crawford after Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final and vowed to make their starting goaltender's job easier by playing better defence in front of him. They delivered in a Game 5 victory over the Boston Bruins.
Crawford had to deflect more questions about a faulty glove hand between games than he had to stop quality chances Saturday night. Still, in making 23 saves on 24 shots, he bounced back in a big way and helped the Blackhawks close in on another title.
"I think it was a big effort by everyone to come back, play defensively, block shots, sacrifice our bodies to block those pucks and quickly get on to offence," Crawford said. "Our guys have done that stuff all year, all year long, playing a defensive game."
Chicago's defensive game was lacking despite winning Game 4 in overtime to tie the series. But so much of the attention was focused on Crawford, who gave up five goals all on his glove side.
Defenceman Duncan Keith was "a little bit amused" by the criticism of Crawford, who not too long ago was getting some Conn Smythe Trophy buzz. No one's faulting Crawford after he allowed just one goal — a howitzer by Boston defenceman Zdeno Chara — in Game 5 at United Center.
"It's funny we keep answering questions about Corey after every game and I'll give you the same answer: We don't have any questions about him," left-winger Patrick Sharp said. "He's been great for us from start to finish. Even giving up five goals, we could care less, we know he's going to be a rock back there."
"Rock solid" is how coach Joel Quenneville described Crawford, who's experiencing his first real run of success in the Stanley Cup playoffs. He was the third goaltender on the 2010 team that finished the job to capture the franchise's first Cup since 1961.
But here he is one victory from joining Antti Niemi and carving his own place in Blackhawks history. After his performance in Game 5, forward Andrew Shaw called Crawford Chicago's "best player through the playoffs."
Crawford's mentality going into Game 6 on Monday night is to "prepare the same way we have all year and play the same game. Don't try and do too much."
That seemed to work well in Game 5, when Crawford wasn't tested much by the Bruins but managed to keep his composure when the ice was tilted in his direction.
"I don't know if there's anything that changed his approach or his demeanour over the last couple days. I thought he handled everything fine," Quenneville said. "Didn't change at all. He looked forward to the game, and he seemed to have the same approach and rapport that we've seen all year long."
What followed was the same dominance the Blackhawks have shown all year long. Quenneville hoped the best defence would be a good offence, and right-winger Patrick Kane filled that quota with two goals.
At every turn teammates voiced confidence for the 26-year-old, who tried to drown out the chatter. They figured they had to be better all-around in front of Crawford than they were Wednesday night.
"They've had my back the whole time," Crawford said. "Our team is pretty tight. We're not going to let anything affect us, and like I said a million times, we just keep playing our game no matter what happens."
There's no reason to believe Crawford and the Blackhawks need to change anything now, even considering the questionable status of captain Jonathan Toews, who left Game 5 with an undisclosed injury.
"Corey just moves forward," Quenneville said. "He's big, he moves, he anticipates, and nothing bothers him, and just looks to look after the next shot."