With his Tampa Bay Lightning trailing 3-2 in the Stanley Cup Final and scoreless in Game 6, captain Steven Stamkos had a chance to give his team the lead and take some energy out of a raucous United Center on Monday against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Stamkos, who had hit the post in the first period, found himself in on a breakaway 59 seconds into the second period. As Stamkos moved the puck from his backhand to his forehand, Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford went down to the ice but kept his left leg anchored against the post. He saved Stamkos' initial shot attempt before the Lightning captain shot his own rebound off the post, keeping the game scoreless.
Crawford made 25 saves in Game 6, shutting out the Lightning in a Stanley Cup-clinching performance as Chicago won 2-0. Crawford made 80 saves on the final 82 shots he faced in the Cup Final, and with his 49th playoff victory on Monday tied Tony Esposito for first all-time in Blackhawks franchise history.
"I don't understand why he's not revered more than he is," Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said, according to ESPN. "He's a winner. He's a big-game boy, and he's won two Cups now. I don't know how many goalies nowadays have. I don't know if there's any. [Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings is the only other active goalie.] It's not easy to do. It's not a fluke. He's been tremendous. Hats off to Corey for the effort that he gives, for the success he's brought to the team."
After the Lightning won Game 3 at United Center 3-2 to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-7 series, Crawford allowed a combined two goals over the final three games of the Final, winning Games 4 and 5 by 2-1 scores, then earning his fifth career playoff shutout on Monday.
It was a tale of two postseasons for Crawford. It began with getting pulled in favor of backup Scott Darling in Game 1 of Chicago's first-round series against the Nashville Predators after allowing three goals on 12 shots. Darling started Games 3 through 6 of that series in favor of Crawford, but coach Joel Quenneville turned back to Crawford after Darling struggled in Game 6 against the Predators and then rode the veteran all the way to the Blackhawks' third Stanley Cup in six seasons, and Crawford's second in three.
"There's a couple of games where the media, the fans put everything on his back," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "He absorbs it and he keeps going and he bounces back. We tried as a team to help him out. We had some great help early on in the playoffs from Scotty Darling, but as a team we knew we had to be better and [Crawford] just got better and better as we got closer and closer to this point."