- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
CHICAGO – It wasn’t the first time I’ve offended someone through what was intended to be some level of flattery.
On Monday night, Corey Crawford has a chance to win his second Stanley Cup as a starter for the Chicago Blackhawks. It would equal the number of Cups Chris Osgood won as a starter with the Detroit Red Wings, another steady last line of defense with an all-star team in front of him.
Neither guy received the bulk of credit for their team’s successes. Both guys have received an uneven amount of blame when things went sideways.
Is there a comparison to be made between Crawford’s role on Chicago’s Cup champions and that of Osgood with the rival Red Wings?
“Comparison between me and Chris Osgood?”
Crawford laughs, in a way that expresses exasperation with a dash of having been insulted.
“What’s going on here? Fabsy!” he calls across the room to Blackhawks media relations maven Brandon Faber, in an effort to rescue him from the interview.
“I don’t know how to answer that,” he says, finally. “You can talk about whatever you want. I’m not going to stop you. I’m just … I have no answer for that one.”
It was then I realized that telling an NHL goaltender on a winning team that he’s the
“Chris Osgood” is likely processed as “you suck but your team is carrying you to greatness,” which isn’t fair to Crawford. He doesn’t suck, and he’s contributing to his team’s greatness. He’s not, like, Antti Niemi over here, the epitome of "along for the ride."
Fact is, Crawford is neither as average as many make him out to be nor as great as he likely considers himself to be.
The Osgood comparison is a reasonable one when you consider that neither was ever called upon to steal a series. The standard of excellence was always “don’t be a liability,” but both managed to go above and beyond that.
Osgood opened the 2008 Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins with back-to-back shutouts, and had a .957 save percentage in a key Game 4 win on the road. In the 1998 sweep of the Washington Capitals, he gave up only one goal in three of the four wins.
But again: Despite 74 playoff wins, Osgood is about the 10th guy to ever get the credit for those Cup victories.
Crawford was sorta that guy in the 2013 Cup victory. Despite stopping 47 of 50 shots in the Blackhawks’ last two wins in that three-game rally against the Boston Bruins, the lasting impression was that he was outplayed at times by Tuukka Rask and had a wonky glove hand. Patrick Kane won the Conn Smythe, Dave Bolland was the Game 6 hero, Jonathan Toews was the anything-to-win captain, and Crawford wasn’t given the same respect, despite some seeing him as the true MVP of the rally.
Then came something Osgood never dreamed of getting with the Red Wings, or any team in his NHL journeys: a long-term, blockbuster contract.
The 28-year-old Crawford was given a six-year extension worth $36 million, as much a reward for his Cup victory as it was an attempt by the Blackhawks to create another problem where there didn’t need to be one.
The next two regular seasons saw him play 59 and 57 games, winning 32 of them in each season. Solid but not spectacular, a goalie sniffing around elite status but never threatening to enter the pantheon.
In the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, however, he’s been at his best. Even after he was “just OK” in Game 2, according to Coach Joel Quenneville.
After struggling in the first round, and sitting for a spell as Scott Darling got a few starts against the Nashville Predators, Crawford has a .920 save percentage for the playoffs with a 2.42 GAA overall. He’s been amazing in the Stanley Cup Final: One goal against in each of the Hawks’ three victories over the Tampa Bay Lightning, outplaying their goaltending overall in the series. He’s also been the backbone of a Blackhawks penalty kill that’s allowed just one tally to the Lightning’s potent power play.
His teammates are putting him over as a main contributor to the wins.
Duncan Keith, June 10: “He made some great saves, great saves when we needed him there.”
Patrick Sharp, June 10 (sarcastically): “I’m not impressed anymore. I know what he’s going to do, he’s going to make saves. He keeps us in the game.”
Brad Richards, June 10: “He was the player of the game tonight, obviously. Not just in the first period but that last two minutes we kind of hung on for dear life there. He just stood tall and made big saves and really made everything look pretty simple tonight.”
Yes, even the guy who said he was “just OK” has come around.
Joel Quenneville, June 13: “I thought he was solid tonight right from the outset, handled the puck well, rebound control, alert, battled. You know, he's been really good in the series.”
Crawford probably isn’t going to win the Conn Smythe if the Blackhawks are fortunate enough to win the Stanley Cup – that seems dog-eared for Duncan Keith. But there’s no question he’s been vital to this journey, perhaps at his best when it’s counted the most and building a postseason resume that would have him pass Tony Esposito in all-time Chicago playoff wins if the Hawks clinch.
“You go through the ups and downs every playoff run. Didn’t start off the way I wanted but I was able to stay with it. It’s been great up to this point,” said Crawford after Game 5. “Can’t get ahead of ourselves. There’s a lot of work to do here and it’s going to be an even harder battle.”
Is he the “Chris Osgood of the Chicago Blackhawks?”
Obviously Crawford would prefer not to be. But when that label indicates postseason valor and the backbone of a dynastic team as much as it infers average abilities, is it such a bad label to carry?
MORE FROM YAHOO HOCKEY