CHICAGO -- After it was finally over on a deflected goal 12:08 into the third overtime at United Center Wednesday night, Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford let out a big sigh of relief at the other end of the ice.
He'd kept his concentration raised to its highest level for 112:08, including 52:08 of overtime hockey. He'd made 51 saves, including 29 during sudden-death play that seemed to last an eternity and made it feel like two separate games.
Crawford was one tired goalie, but he could finally let his guard down after the Blackhawks won an epic 4-3 come-from-behind victory against the Boston Bruins in Game 1 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final.
"It's, uh ... it's a little exhausting," Crawford said afterward, sitting at his locker stall too tired to even snack on an energy bar offered by one of the Blackhawks' athletic trainers. "It was tiring. I'm not going to lie. I just tried to tell myself to make the next save and we're going to score on our next shot. That's pretty much what I was telling myself the whole OT."
The Bruins, a relentless team very similar to the Blackhawks, certainly kept him busy. There were plenty of "next shots" to worry about and keep out of the net -- and he did just that with most of them. There were a couple others, however, that clanked off metal and others where a teammate a cleared loose puck out of the crease.
It was a draining experience for every player on the ice, but especially for Crawford and Boston goalie Tuukka Rask – who took turns making head-scratching saves that left people wondering how the puck didn't go into the net.
Crawford wasn't among them. He didn't have enough time for such thoughts and prefers not to think like that anyway.
"Nope, not one bit, man," he said, when asked if he'd ever wondered how the Bruins hadn't ended it one some golden scoring chances in OT. "My job is to keep it out, so I don't want to start doubting myself in OT. In OT, you've got to make the next save or else it's over, so [you] just focus on everything and make sure the next one doesn't go in."
A sequence at the end of the second overtime period was a perfect example.
The Bruins were given their second power play of extra time because Chicago had too many men on the ice, but Crawford and some good fortune kept Boston from ending it. Defenseman Zdeno Chara, owner of the NHL's hardest slap shot, ripped a long one-time blast from just inside the blue line between the circles that drilled the right post and slid behind Crawford through the crease.
Milan Lucic failed to get a shot on goal from close range off the rebound, with Crawford sprawled and poking at the puck, and then took it behind the net. Lucic then slipped a pass past Duncan Keith to Patrice Bergeron in the right circle for a snap shot that Crawford stopped after just barely scrambling to his knees to cut down the angle at the right post.
The Bruins didn't get off another shot before the period expired, and Chicago then killed off the remaining 1:07 of the man-advantage situation to start the third overtime.
"We were able to kill off that one," Crawford said. "We caught a good break off the post there, but we were able to kill it off in the next period. I think that gave us some more momentum."
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews summed up Crawford's entire night a little differently.
"You can't even put that into words," Toews said. "He made some unbelievable saves. You know you're going to need some big stops. One went off the post there. A couple times we gave up a few too many chances off the rush. He was there every single time. We were close to putting the game away quite a few times, but we needed [him] to make those stops to keep the game going."
Crawford just needed a goal by the guys wearing red and black. After all, it was getting close to his bedtime. Asked if he'd ever watched games like this when he was a young hockey fan, Crawford shook his head and smiled.
"I don't think I stayed up that long to watch that," he said. "Oh, man. I was so glad we finally scored one there."
A year ago, Crawford found himself at the other end of the spectrum. He'd given up three overtime goals during Chicago's Western Conference Quarterfinals series against the Phoenix Coyotes -- all on shots he probably should have stopped -- and the Blackhawks went home early for the second year in a row.
He used those haunting OT goals as motivation -- and it's worked all season long. Crawford and Ray Emery won the William Jennings Trophy for fewest goals allowed, and Crawford continues to impress the deeper his team goes in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"Same story [all year]," forward Patrick Sharp said. "You can take the quotes from every playoff win. He was big for us in there. He makes huge saves at timely situations and I think we can finally stop asking questions about if he's the No. 1 guy."