Blackhawks even Stanley Cup final with Game 4 win
Chicago Blackhawks centre Jonathan Toews (19) celebrates with winger Patrick Sharp (10) after scoring against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final Wednesday at United Center in Chicago. (Dennis Wierzbicki/USA TODAY Sports)
Corey Crawford’s head was spinning.
Who could blame him? Everywhere he looked, there seemed to be a Tampa Bay Lightning player, spinning, manoeuvring, threatening to unleash the potential tying goal.
For the beleaguered Chicago Blackhawks goaltender, it seemed as if there were 20 guys in white jerseys dancing all around him.
It was so crazy, Crawford would say afterward, that “I had no idea how much time was left on the clock.”
More often than not, the expectation would have been for Crawford to crack. Too many times in this Stanley Cup final, he had done exactly that. Upon further review, there were a handful of goals he’d allowed in the first three games that had a distinct odour to them.
But with his team trailing 2-1 entering Game 4 of the final, Crawford did not crumble this time. Anything but.
“He was a wall,” teammate Brad Richards said.
He had to be.
Despite a chaotic scramble around the Chicago net, including two prime scoring chances by Steven Stamkos as the clock ticked down in the game’s final minute, Crawford brilliantly held the fort, going from zero to hero en route to helping the Blackhawks post a 2-1 victory Wednesday night at the raucous United Center.
“I thought he was outstanding tonight,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “You can call this a goalie win.”
A goalie win.
There’s something the Hawks No. 1 puckstopper hasn’t heard much. This, remember, is a guy who had been slagged for perceived sub-par performances in Games 2 and 3, thanks in part to some questionable short-side goals that had managed to squeeze by or through him.
Crawford bashing isn’t anything new in these parts. There are times it has become a sport unto itself. But Quenneville knows that his goalie can handle it.
Heck, two years earlier, he helped them win a Stanley Cup, beating the Boston Bruins in the final.
“Goaltenders often get a lot more scrunity,” Quenneville said. “(But) he always finds a way to push through it.
“He’s a battler. He showed that in 2015.”
What Crawford has been battling recently is criticism. Wednesday night’s 24-save performance should muzzle some of that.
“It was probably one of my best games of the last few,” Crawford said. “Then again, you can’t think about what happened before. You have got to worry about what’s next.”
Make no mistake. This wasn’t easy. Quenneville didn’t expect this to be. Neither did Crawford. Or Jonathan Toews, who scored his first goal of the final. Or Brandon Saad, whose outstanding drive to the net resulted in the winning goal at 6:22 of the third.
In fact, the Hawks struggled in the first period, one in which Chicago registered just two shots on rookie Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.
But these Hawks always seem to play their best when their backs are against the proverbial wall. And on Wednesday night, faced with going down 3-1 in the series with a loss, Chicago did what it does best — pushed back.
With Toews finally hitting the scoreboard in this series, the Hawks rebounded from their poor opening minutes to register the victory, evening the Clash for The Cup at 2-2 heading into Game 5 Saturday in Tampa.
The win means that this now becomes a best-of-three series in the quest for hockey’s Holy Grail. It also guarantees one more tilt at the United Centre, with Game 6 going Monday in Chicago.
“It’s a pretty big difference going back 2-2 instead of being down 3-1,” Crawford said. “This one was pretty important for us.
“We have to keep the momentum going and keep playing the way we can.”
After Toews opened the scoring at 6:40 of the second, Alex Killorn knotted the game up at 1-1 just over five minutes later off a beautiful feed from Valtteri Filppula. That sent the normally deafening throng at the United Centre into a nervous hush.
But Saad brought the roar back to the Madhouse on Madison by putting Chicago up for good at 6:22 of the third, skating untouched in front of the Lightning net before flipping in the go-ahead goal.
When Vasilevskiy, 20, stepped in for the ailing Ben Bishop, he became the youngest goalie to ever start a Stanley Cup final game since Patrick Roy did it back in the 1986 playoffs for the Habs.
The big question now becomes: Will Bishop be able to answer the bell for Game 5?
There are no questions about Corey Crawford and his resiliency. At least there weren’t any on this night.