CHICAGO (AP) — Corey Crawford started every single playoff game when the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup last year. Detroit had Jimmy Howard in goal, Jonathan Quick was in net for Los Angeles, Boston had Tuukka Rask, and Crawford beat each one of them.
Chicago's unassuming goaltender still had his doubters when this season began.
Not so much right now.
Crawford is among the NHL's playoff leaders with a .931 save percentage and 1.97 goals-against average, leading the Blackhawks to the Western Conference finals for the fourth time in six seasons. The breakout postseason comes after he set career highs for games and starts while going 32-16-10 during the regular season.
"It's another step closer to our ultimate goal and we're pretty excited about that right now," Crawford said moments after he helped finish off Minnesota in the second round. "Resilient bunch and we never give up or get down, never get too high. That was a pretty good finish for this one."
With Chicago locked in a tight series with the improving Wild, Crawford stepped up at a pivotal moment for the Blackhawks' title defense.
He had 27 saves in Game 5, helping the Blackhawks rally for a 2-1 win and a 3-2 series lead. Then he made 34 more stops in a 2-1 win at Minnesota on Tuesday night, keeping his team in the game until Patrick Kane got free for the series-clinching goal in overtime.
"He was big," Kane said. "Seems to be a trend in this building, kind of in the second period, that they outplay us. I'm sure he wasn't happiest with us with how we were playing in front of him. But he did what he does. He's a great goaltender, and we feel he's the best in the league for that reason."