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Blackhawks goalie Crawford learns to ignore critics

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- The slights used to be taken as personal attacks by Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford, who would use them as motivation.

Now a 30-year-old veteran, Crawford has learned to block out the noise and focus on winning championships. His two Stanley Cup rings are all the validation he needs.

But it wasn't always that way for Crawford. Prior to helping the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup in 2013 and 2015, he said he was aware of his critics and what they would say.

"I took some stuff personally, when [media] would bash on me," said Crawford, who will start for the Blackhawks at United Center on Monday (8:30 p.m. ET; NHLN, SNE, SNO, SNW, FS-W, CSN-CH) looking to end the Los Angeles Kings' seven-game winning streak. "My [rookie] year, I just came in and it was great. I started playing a lot of games and I was winning. In the second year it's a different story when you're declared a No. 1 guy. I didn't play as well."

Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford has learned to ignore his critics and focus on winning championships. (Photo: Getty Images)

Crawford played 57 games in 2011-12, his second full NHL season, and went 30-17-7. His goals-against average (2.72) inflated from 2.30 the previous season, and his save percentage dipped from .917 to .903. In the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Crawford started all six games of Chicago's loss to the Arizona Coyotes in the Western Conference First Round. Three of the Blackhawks' losses happened in overtime.

"I wasn't as consistent in my second year," Crawford said. "I had really good games and I had really bad ones that year; a lot of really bad ones. I took some stuff personally. But I think going through that, you learn a lot about yourself and you learn how to deal with things, and really just how to shut things out."

The following season Crawford showed signs of becoming a different goaltender. Nothing rattled him during the lockout-shortened 48-game regular season and that continued in the postseason. Crawford played a big role in leading the Blackhawks to the Cup, their first time winning it since 2010 with Antti Niemi in net.

His ability to block out distractions was key, and it has become a life skill. The critics still exist and doubts about him as an elite goalie are ever-present. What has changed is Crawford's outlook.

"Give him credit," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "Goaltenders, the scrutiny they're under on a daily basis [is intense], and the importance of that position and how meaningful it is to your success as a team [is huge]. He’s been very good for us, coming off his best year last year, and I find goalies get better with age."

Last season, Crawford went 32-20-5 with a 2.27 GAA and .924 save percentage in 57 games and for the second time in his career earned a share of the William M. Jennings Trophy, awarded to goaltenders who play a minimum of 25 games for the team that allows the fewest goals during the regular season. During the playoffs, Crawford overcame a rough start in the first round against the Nashville Predators, when he was benched for four games, to lead the Blackhawks to another championship.

He closed the postseason by allowing two goals in the final three games of the Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning, including a 25-save, 2-0 shutout in the Cup-clinching Game 6 win at United Center.

"That feeling is so hard to explain and so hard to express, the joy you get with your teammates and your family, seeing your family after [winning the Cup]," Crawford said. "Man ... it's the greatest feeling. As a hockey player you work your whole life to get to that point. And to win a Stanley Cup, it's a dream. When you're a kid and when we get here, get to this point, it's so hard to win. To be able to do it twice is an unbelievable feeling."

It's something Lightning coach Jon Cooper hopes to experience too after coming so close. Cooper was asked about Crawford during Tampa Bay's return trip to Chicago on Oct. 24, and his answer put a smile on Crawford's face a week later.

"The thing that impresses me is that when you start reeling off the top goaltenders in the League, nobody ever mentions him," Cooper said. "Yet he's the guy who wins all the time. So I don't know how you rate goaltenders, but I want the guy who's going to win. And I don't think you can put a price tag on that."

Crawford is winning this season too. In eight games he's 5-3-0 with a 1.76 GAA, .938 save percentage and two shutouts, each 1-0 overtime wins. Among active goalies he's one of two to have won the Cup more than once as a starter. The other is Jonathan Quick, who is expected to start for the Kings.

Quick often is cited as one of the League's best goalies. Crawford isn't, but he's content as long as the Blackhawks keep challenging for championships.

"You can't control what people's opinions are or what they say about you, or any of that stuff, really," he said. "All you can control is how you perform and how you play. At the end of the day, all that really matters, like [Cooper] said, is winning. Winning games, winning championships, seeing that banner go up ... that's pretty much all it's about."

It could be about avenging perceived wrongs, something Crawford could do simply by showing off his two championship rings. But that's not his style. Not anymore.

"Winning the Stanley Cup is not about shutting anybody up or anything," Crawford said. "Winning the Stanley Cup is about working hard and winning, and winning with your teammates ... everyone who battled, working their whole life to get to that point. That's what winning the Stanley Cup is about."

It's something he still is eagerly pursuing, with the same fervor as the first two times.

"At the end, after it's all done, you want to be able to look back and look at those [championship] rings again and go back on all those hard times and see what it was all for, you know?" Crawford said. "You'll see all that battle and what it was all about, and what you got in the end for it."

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