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updated: 5/31/2014 4:59 PM

Blackhawks' Crawford standing tall again

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  • Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford blocks a shot against the Kings during Game 6 of the Western Conference finals Friday night.

      Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford blocks a shot against the Kings during Game 6 of the Western Conference finals Friday night.
    Associated Press

 
 

For the last five periods, it has felt like sudden-death overtime.

Beginning with the third period of Game 5, the Blackhawks and Kings have fought like champions, appropriate since they are last two Stanley Cup winners.

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They've gone up and down the ice like there was no tomorrow, a reality for the Hawks, and a feeling for the Kings -- who know too well the Hawks' history of returning from the dead.

Beyond entertaining, and considering the stakes, it has been magical.

"These last two games, you can watch some hockey games, but these are right up there," said Hawks coach Joel Quenneville. "This is the 'wow' factor in this series, especially the last two games.

"We got two competitive teams that have experience, have experienced players, experience in the situation. You know, it's been amazing. I mean, as good as it gets."

People will always remember The Patrick Kane Show in Game 6, the line with Andrew Shaw and Brandon Saad that has 14 points in two games, and the Michal Handzus game-winner in Game 5.

And no one should forget Drew Doughty, the best player in the postseason thus far, and the leading candidate for Conn Smythe should the Kings advance.

Doughty is a Chris Chelios clone, only bigger and just as mean, able to skate mad minutes and at the same time perform at an extraordinary level. He leads all current players in ice time at 27:45 -- a fraction ahead of Duncan Keith -- is fifth in points (16), fourth in blocks (44), sixth in plus-minus (+7), and leads all defensemen in points, assists (12) and shots (50).

It was Doughty who created both third-period goals that put the Kings in the lead Friday night, before Kane stole the spotlight.

Lost amid the highlights of these incredible athletes performing incredible acts on the ice was the play of Hawks goaltender Corey Crawford.

He came into the Western Conference finals as the Conn Smythe favorite, the overwhelming reason the slow-starting Hawks survived the first two rounds, and he was solid for the first five periods of the series.

But early in the third period of Game 2, Kings coach Darryl Sutter made an adjustment and sacrificed some defensive responsibility among his forward lines in order to get bodies in front of Crawford.

That began an onslaught against the Hawks' goalie that lasted through the second period of Game 5. During that time, the Kings outscored the Hawks 19-8, and Crawford had no chance on most of them, never seeing the puck until he was taking it out of the back of his net.

And like most of the Hawks, he lost some confidence. He didn't appear as quiet and calm in his net, and it was fair to wonder if Crawford would find it again.

Well, he found it in the third period of Game 5, was brilliant in overtime and saved the last 25 shots of that game. In Game 6, he was fabulous from start to finish.

The scoreboard would suggest that it wasn't a "goaltender win," but it was most assuredly so, Crawford making crucial saves all throughout the third period, and especially after the Hawks fell behind 3-2.

"You can't be worried about what happened before. It's about the next shot," Crawford said. "I have confidence in our guys to come back. Just don't give them another one.

"This team's done it before. We know we can. Lot of resiliency on this team. Never give up on our guys."

Another goal there to make it 4-2 and the game is over, the series is over, the season is over, and the repeat is just a fantasy for years down the road.

But Crawford stood up when it mattered most, and then the Hawks came back and got the lead with less than four minutes remaining.

In the final couple of minutes, Crawford made 5 huge saves, all through screens, and 2 in the final seven seconds.

"You just have to be aware of options there," Crawford said of opposition looks. "Stay focused on the puck, especially on those plays at the end. You have to cover the bottom of the ice and stay low, make sure nothing gets under you."

So even while his critics continue to find fault with Crawford, his swagger is back, and that's good news for the Hawks, who still face Game 7 against a team that is every bit as resilient.

This series is not over. The comeback incomplete. If the Hawks let up at all, their season will be over Sunday night.

Crawford, once again, will have a lot to say about that.

brozner@dailyherald.com

• Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM.

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