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Blackhawks' Crawford bounces back from benching

by Brian Hedger /

CHICAGO -- Marian Hossa has seen enough goalie meltdowns in his career to truly appreciate what Corey Crawford routinely does for the Chicago Blackhawks.

Crawford's resilience has become one of his biggest assets, right up there with tracking pucks, timing shots and body position. He's developed it incrementally the past five seasons, and it's now to a point matched by few goalies.

"He's one of those goalies who's [very] strong mentally," Hossa said. "One or two weaker games, or whatever you want to call it, it seems like he just forgets and starts looking for a new challenge. He can just shake off whatever, and it's amazing to see because not many goalies can do that."

Crawford's start to the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs was so turbulent it probably would've crushed the confidence of many goalies. He was pulled after one period in Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round against the Nashville Predators, lost the starting job after Game 2, and didn't know when, or if, he'd get another chance.

"I never necessarily get low, confidence-wise, about my game," he said. "I was a little ticked off, I guess you could say, that I wasn't in there. But I was still ready to get back in. I was working hard, and I mean … things happen. Sometimes things don't go your way, and you can't really let your emotions affect your play after that."

Crawford's response at the time was rooted in anger, but he harnessed those feelings and recovered strongly. After relieving Scott Darling to finish off the Predators in Game 6, he started every game in the Blackhawks' second-round sweep of the Minnesota Wild, allowing seven goals in the four games.

After a 30-save shutout in Game 3 at Xcel Energy Center, a 1-0 Blackhawks victory in which the Wild dominated the third period, Minnesota coach Mike Yeo compared Crawford to Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur. It was a stark contrast to what was said after Nashville scored nine goals against him in his first four periods of the playoffs.

"I don't think I was completely awful the first [series]," Crawford said. "It just took a little bit to get into it. I was out quick, lost the timing and when I came back, I got it back pretty quick. I'm feeling pretty good right now."

How Crawford plays, and feels, in the Western Conference Final against the Anaheim Ducks will go a long way to determining whether the Blackhawks advance to their third Stanley Cup Final in seven seasons. Game 1 is Sunday at Honda Center (3 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

Hossa knows how rare Crawford's Teflon personality is for a goalie.

"Guys start questioning themselves, you know?" Hossa said. "Corey's great because he just forgets and wakes up the next day with a new perspective. A new challenge is in front of him, and he just doesn't [look] behind. That's why he's strong."

Crawford's resolve began to harden at the start of the 2009-10 season, when he lost a battle in training camp for the backup job to Antti Niemi. Crawford thought he'd done enough to win the position but was instead sent to Rockford of the American Hockey League.

Corey Crawford
Goalie - CHI
GAA: 2.60 | SVP: .916
Niemi would have had to clear waivers for the Blackhawks to send him down, and they didn't want to lose him. Crawford went 24-16-2 in 45 games for the IceHogs, and Niemi took over the Blackhawks' starting job from Cristobal Huet late in the season and helped them win the Stanley Cup.

Going through that experience added an extra layer to Crawford's skin.

"You know, things happen and kind of bring you down a little bit, and it's really how you react to it," Crawford said. "I think [resilience] started with not making the team in [2009-10]. I was cut, and really that was one of the main points when I could've shut things down and maybe had a brutal year. I chose to keep working hard and try and force another chance."

That chance came the following season after Niemi signed with the San Jose Sharks as a free agent. Crawford started the 2010-11 season as Marty Turco's backup, quickly became the No. 1, and started every game of the Blackhawks' seven-game, first-round loss to the Vancouver Canucks.

The next season Crawford was criticized for overtime goals in a first-round loss to the Phoenix Coyotes, and the sting sat with him the entire offseason. He returned in 2012-13 determined to prove himself, and did so by helping the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup.

Once again, Crawford fought off criticism in the Cup Final after the Boston Bruins scored several goals over his catching glove. By that point, he knew how to handle it.

"Things that didn't really matter or weren't necessarily true, I was able to really keep things in here, within the team and within my own game," he said. "I was able to just keep playing hard knowing that what I was doing was right and not worrying about what other people thought. I think that's what makes our team really good too. In those really intense moments, those game-changing or series-changing moments, our team is able to zone in a little bit more and thrive."

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