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Crawford carries Blackhawks back to Cup Final

by Brian Hedger /

ANAHEIM -- Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford wasn't in the mood after Game 7 of the Western Conference Final at Honda Center on Saturday to dwell on the pain he felt a year ago at this stage of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Following this 5-3 victory against the Anaheim Ducks, Crawford was too focused on what's ahead to think about redemption earned for a stinging defeat that happened June 1, 2014 at United Center.

That's when Crawford didn't see a fluttering shot by Los Angeles Kings defenseman Alec Martinez at 5:47 of overtime, and the Blackhawks lost their chance to repeat as Stanley Cup champion.

After making 35 saves to eliminate Anaheim and advance to Chicago's third Stanley Cup Final in six seasons, Crawford opted to keep his eyes on what's next: Game 1 against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

"I don't think any of us think about last year," he said. "All we're thinking about is having a chance to play for the Cup. That's enough motivation right there."

Crawford allowed two goals on 12 shots in the third period against Anaheim, but by then Chicago had built a comfortable lead. He was outstanding in the second period, when he allowed one goal on 18 shots.

Watching the seconds tick down in the third period had to be satisfying. Not only did it help soften the pain of the loss last year, it was further proof Crawford is the Blackhawks' top goalie.

Since getting off to a shaky start to the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, benched in favor of backup Scott Darling for four games, Crawford returned to top form. He's been a big reason the Blackhawks won several games in the past two rounds and has impressed his coaches with continued resiliency.

"I think we've seen [Crawford] in the playoffs," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "A lot of question marks [early]. [In] 2013, he was outstanding, a big factor in us winning. Last year, you go that deep in the playoffs with your goaltender, he's got to be doing something right. This year, well, I think [Darling] came in, call it what you want, he won a couple big games, but Corey stayed with it, got the net back, [and] showed what it's like to be a good pro."

He also showed some relief after another tough conference final. This time, he was the victorious goalie occupying the visitors locker room afterward.

"I mean, I don't think anyone really cares whether it's on the road or at home [when you clinch]," Crawford said. "I think everyone's just happy for a chance to play in the [Stanley Cup Final]. We'll feel good about this one for a little bit and then get ready for what's coming."

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