Blackhawks ride grown-up Crawford into Cup Final
There is a fine line between arrogance and confidence in the NHL.
And it's the finish line that often differentiates perception from reality.
Corey Crawford has carried the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup Final, and with all due respect to the amazing playoff thus far from Bryan Bickell, it's Crawford who ought to be in line for the Conn Smythe Trophy if the Hawks can handle the Big Bad Bruins.
"I think Corey is the guy for us," said Viktor Stalberg. "For some reason, he doesn't seem to get the recognition."
Crawford doesn't care, either, because he is a confident goaltender these days, prone even to saying that he expects to outplay the opposing goaltender.
He raised eyebrows when he offered before the Los Angeles series that, "I'm really looking forward to going up against (Jonathan Quick). We'll see who comes out of the next one looking this good."
It's arrogance if you don't perform. It's simple confidence when you do, and Crawford merely outplayed Quick -- generally considered the best goaltender in the world.
"You've got to commend him on how he's played all-year long," said Hawks coach Joel Quenneville of Crawford. "I think the consistency, his approach where he just moves forward to see the next situation, the next shot. Unflappable in that area. Corey has been rock solid."
Crawford has hardly been flawless, but when he has made a mistake, he has bounced back immediately, a sign of immense growth in a goaltender who is not young in age (28), but in regular-season games has played the equivalent of two NHL seasons.
You listen to him talk now and he doesn't resemble the guy who took the job away from Marty Turco two years ago.
You watch him walk now and he doesn't remind you of the guy who had to explain two huge postseason mistakes a year ago.
You look into his eyes now and he doesn't look anything like the guy who some thought was 1 bad goal away from losing his net in the postseason.
Ray Emery is a distant memory at this point, despite his terrific regular season. Quenneville used him just enough to keep Crawford fresh and prod the No. 1 goalie just a tad, but Crawford is long past dwelling on the mistakes an inexperienced goalie makes, and he has total belief in himself and the total confidence of his teammates.
"It's never easy to get past those kinds of things," Crawford said of the overtime goals he allowed vs. Phoenix in April 2012. "But this is a different year, I'm a different guy and this is a different team."
After a bad goal in a crucial moment against Detroit, Crawford shook it off and stood strong.
"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."
Crawford has never lacked for buoyancy, but poise is often a direct result of success -- something Crawford knew he had to experience.
"I know that I can play great hockey. I'm sure of that," Crawford said following Game 6 against Phoenix in 2012. "There were a lot of ups and downs this year and I think you learn a lot from that. There's a lot to be gained from that process.
"I know I played better than last year at times, and I know I've got some things to work on, some issues to take care of. There's some things I have to do better and I'm disappointed in that. I could have been better in this series.
"But I know what I've got in me and I'll be working hard this summer to get better all the way around. I believe in myself and what I can do at this level."
So Crawford worked hard on remaining focused for 60 minutes -- and sometimes more.
"I feel very confident," Crawford says now. "The thing is, I felt really confident last year. A couple times during games, I just got a little sleepy, but I learned from that and I made sure I was strong coming into this season."
Crawford may be the same goaltender, but he is unquestionably a different man, no longer questioning his place in the game or his spot on the Hawks.
He is a No. 1 goalie on the best team in hockey with a chance to win the Stanley Cup.
If the Hawks can collect 4 more victories and lift Lord Stanley's Bowl, Corey Crawford should also hold up the Conn Smythe Trophy.
What a difference a year makes.
•Listen 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.