Unsung Crawford steps up again

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CHICAGO -- On a day when the Chicago Blackhawks played without the puck for long stretches of time and the Los Angeles Kings looked anything but tired, it was once again left to the quiet man in the Blackhawks net to save the day.

It is a recurring theme when it comes to Corey Crawford, who continues to post victories in spite of the fact he has by far the lowest profile of any of the four remaining goaltenders in playoffs.

Henrik Lundqvist, Carey Price, Jonathan Quick are all world-class goaltenders, who, combined, have Olympic gold medals and Vezina Trophies and playoff MVP honors to their credit, and it's a fair bet that if you asked 100 hockey people to rank them, Crawford would place 4th on 90 percent of the ballots.

Still, the fact remains Crawford is seven wins away from winning back-to-back Stanley Cups, high profile or not, recognition or not, following his 25-save performance in the Blackhawks' 3-1 win in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals.

Chicago captain Jonathan Toews joked that he needed to come up with more original material for his press briefings, the implication that he is used to a) being asked about Crawford and b) praising Crawford's work.

"I think he keeps getting better and better," said Toews, who scored the team's third goal on an odd-man rush late in the third period. "As a team, we want to keep raising our level of play as the stage gets bigger and bigger. If there's anyone that's doing it, it's Crow. Whether it's big penalty kills or us protecting situations late in games, he just seems to get better and better as the pressure mounts.

"We were talking a few days ago about the crowd chanting his name in Minnesota [during the last round]. Doesn't matter how much pressure is on him, he just seems to keep playing. It's an example that I think the rest of us can follow."

Talk to lots of people connected to the Blackhawks and there's a distinct feeling that Crawford got jobbed in voting for the Conn Smythe (playoff MVP) last June that he was more deserving than Patrick Kane. I don't agree, but the fact is there is a widespread belief that Crawford was the team's most valuable performer as it won its second Stanley cup in four years.

Still, in spite of his championship credentials, Crawford was never really a factor when it came to the Canadian Olympic team and his name was well down the list in Vezina Trophy discussions about possible. And here he is once again doing the only thing that matters at the only time of year that matters: winning.

"I think he feels the same," said forward Brandon Saad, who scored the Blackhawks' first goal, on the power play. "He might be a little bit more focused but we saw that last year during the playoffs with how he can steal games and step up and take over a game. So, we expect that out of him. He tries not to get frustrated. I know that's something he's been working on and he does a good job with never getting too high or low because tomorrow's always another day. He did a great job tonight."

On Sunday, he stopped 16 of 17 Kings shots in the second period to help the Blackhawks win their seventh straight playoff home game. They are the only team in the playoffs without at least one home loss.

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