A defining moment for Crawford?


LOS ANGELES -- Say what you will about Chicago netminder Corey Crawford -- and goodness knows plenty has been said during an up-and-down Western Conference finals -- but, at the end of the day, Crawford did not allow the one goal that almost everyone in the hockey world expected he would give up.

Surely, the Los Angeles Kings were fully expecting they would find a way to beat the Blackhawks' beleaguered netminder at least one more time when they were leading Game 5 by a 4-3 count, having erased Chicago leads of 2-0 and 3-1 seemingly with the flick of a switch.

Even when this monumental tug of war extended into overtime, was there not a reasonable expectation that it would be the Kings who would find a way to deliver against Crawford?

If you listened to the Kings after Michal Handzus, of all people, secured the Blackhawks a Game 6, there was a sense of an opportunity missed even though they lead the series 3-2.

And why not. Crawford was solid in a Game 1 victory after strong performances, for the most part, in the first two rounds. But the Kings owned Crawford and the entire Blackhawks team in winning three straight to push Chicago to the brink.

In those victories, the Kings poured 13 goals past Crawford on 82 shots.

And then came Game 5, a rollicking, see-saw affair that featured an overtime period that Chicago coach Joel Quenneville called perhaps the most exciting period he'd been a part of in a long career as a player and a coach.

Was it a defining moment for Crawford and the Blackhawks?

That will, of course, depend on Game 6.

But for a couple of days, this stands as a watershed moment for Crawford.

After the Blackhawks opened the game with two quick goals and then led by a 3-1 count, the Kings found another gear and scored three unanswered goals to take a 4-3 lead into the third period.

Like so many of the goals Crawford has allowed in this series, they weren't atrocious. Just not very good. Through two periods, Crawford allowed four goals on 25 shots.

Less than a minute after the Kings took the lead, Blackhawks defender Johnny Oduya was whistled for hooking. It was the kind of moment that, during the three-game L.A. winning streak, the Kings would have capitalized on.

Crawford looked out of sorts. The puck stayed in the Blackhawks zone. Each shot or attempted shot left the impression Crawford wasn't exactly sure where the puck was. At one point, he looked behind him on a failed shot from in front.

The United Center crowd collectively inhaled and held, and held and held.

But the Kings did not get what surely would have been a decisive fifth goal on that power play, and the period ended.

Still, there was a lot of buzz about the goaltender and what would happen next.

Was it possible Quenneville would go to rookie Antti Raanta?

If not, was there any way the Kings wouldn't exploit Crawford again in the third period?

Crawford stayed in, of course, and held the fort.

He denied the Kings on eight third-period shots. Then in overtime, the Montreal native did not flinch as he turned aside all 11 Los Angeles shots he faced.

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