Crawford proves capable of saving Blackhawks

It has been said of a seventh game that hockey players don’t know exactly what they’re made of until they stare down the pressure of the ultimate elimination match.

Or collapse under the weight of it.

Corey Crawford can now say he has seen the enemy — and it is not his own head.

Crawford stood on it a few times but never strayed too far inside it, as he played a magnificent Game 7 and the Blackhawks completed their comeback from down 3-1 in the series to eliminate the Red Wings with an overtime victory Wednesday.

Crawford has been rock solid throughout two rounds of the playoffs, save one bad goal he didn’t save against Detroit in Game 6. But he bounced back quickly from that and kept the Hawks in the game when the second period of Game 6 could have gotten away from them.

“That’s something I’ve learned to do better,” Crawford said. “You have to be able to move on quickly in this game, and being able to do that sure has saved me a few times.”

And while Crawford does not have everyone convinced he isn’t haunted by past mistakes, especially the overtime goals against Phoenix a year ago, Crawford certainly seems to be.

“It’s never easy to get past those kinds of things,” he said. “But this is a different year, I’m a different guy, and this is a different team.”

Crawford trails only the Kings’ Jonathan Quick among postseason goaltenders with a 1.70 goals against, and is third in save percentage (.938) behind Quick and the Penguins’ Tomas Vokoun.

Not surprisingly, after carrying the Kings to the Cup a year ago, Quick is on fire again and was brilliant against the Sharks. Crawford doesn’t have to match Quick, but he does have to maintain his strong play in the conference finals if the Hawks want another shot at the Cup.

“I’m really looking forward to going up against (Quick),” Crawford said. “We’ll see who comes out of the next one looking this good.”

Crawford looked very good in Game 7 after Detroit tied the score at 1-1 early in the third. Once Dan Cleary beat Johnny Oduya to a loose puck and Gustav Nyquist hit Henrik Zetterberg for a wide-open net, the game swung entirely in the Wings’ favor, and it was Crawford who stemmed the tide.

The Hawks played scared to lose for about the next 15 minutes, while the Red Wings played with nothing to lose, and it was only Crawford who kept the NHL’s No. 1 seed from a Game 7 loss at home.

“It all starts with Crow,” said Joel Quenneville. “In the playoffs, you get some amazing highs and some amazing lows, but he kept us in it.”

For what it’s worth, Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard was the best player in the series for either team, and without him the Red Wings would have never been in a position to upset the Hawks.

So Crawford has already seen the opposing goalie make life difficult for the Hawks, and Crawford didn’t buckle.

“I thought Corey was great in the series,” Howard said. “He kept them in it a couple times when we really had the momentum on our side and we were pushing really hard. He really did a great job for them.”

About three minutes after the Hawks made it 1-0 early in the second period Wednesday, Crawford probably made his best save of the night when the Red Wings pinned the Hawks deep and a pass from behind the net found Cory Emmerton all alone on Crawford from point blank.

“That puck came out fast and he followed it and still squared up nice on me,” Emmerton said. “I thought it was one of the best saves of the series, but he made a lot of them. With him playing like that, they have a real good chance to win.”

Having survived a horribly slow start to the last series, the Hawks have new life, and assuming they are now awake and aware of how dangerous it would be to lose home ice in this series against a team that hasn’t lost at home since March 23, they should be desperate and ready to go.

But as the Red Wings were not the Wild, the Kings are not the Red Wings. Los Angeles is big, mean, physical and deep. They have the best goalie in the game, and the Hawks are in for a serious challenge across the board.

At least for his part in this battle, Corey Crawford appears ready for what is next — and that is very good news for the Hawks.

ŸListen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score’s “Hit and Run” show at WSCR 670-AM, and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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