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MORRISSEY: Focus, consistency have taken Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford to next level

Updated: March 4, 2013 9:51PM



The best hockey game I’ve ever seen, post-‘‘Miracle on Ice,’’ was the gold-medal
showdown between Canada and the United States in the 2010 Olympics. It had everything you could want: phenomenal talent, the rivalry of neighbor nations and high-grade excitement on every shift.

On Sunday, I saw a game that was almost its equal, an amazing accomplishment for early March, a month usually pronounced ‘‘meh.’’ This, too, had everything you could want: a Blackhawks team on a crazy streak, a Red Wings team that, with every ounce of its being, wanted to
beat its enemy and the resultant fight to the death.

This might be heresy in Chicago, but I thought it was better than the Hawks’ Game 6 overtime victory against the Flyers to win the 2010 Stanley Cup. Go ahead and take away my Whitey Stapleton decoder ring.

There were many standouts in the Hawks’ 2-1 shootout thriller Sunday in Detroit, just as there have been throughout the season-opening 22-game points streak they’re on. Lesser lights such as Brandon Saad, Michael Frolik and Michal Rozsival strafed Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard so many times in the second period that there was oil leaking from his fuselage. Patrick Kane would provide the dramatics, tying the score late, then mercilessly teasing Howard with the puck before beating him in the shootout.

But nobody stood out more than goalie Corey Crawford, much of the standing having been done on his head, as hockey people like to say. He made several saves no one with only two arms should be able to make.

There is something especially sweet about that because grumbling has nipped at his heels wherever he has gone since the playoffs last season.

I had a nice chat with Crawford about three weeks ago but never got the chance to put his words into the newspaper. The game Sunday gives me an excuse to use them because everything his critics have said about him melted away as the game went on. You know, that his confidence is fragile, that he’s overly sensitive, etc.

How people know this is beyond me.

‘‘My confidence level has always been pretty good,’’ he said. ‘‘I know what I can do. For some reason, I’m just a little more focused. Not that I wasn’t last year, but it seems like at times during stretches last year I was maybe not at my best. But so far I feel good every game.’’

He played well when he became the Hawks’ starter in 2010-11, then saw his numbers drop off last season. There were those ‘‘soft’’ overtime goals he let in during the postseason, the ones that have given his detractors amazing powers of psychological analysis.

‘‘Everybody talks about the sophomore slump, but last year I thought I had really good stretches of great hockey,’’ he said. ‘‘I won 30 games, but it was just those times where things were pretty bad that kind of made everybody think that the season was terrible.

‘‘Maybe having such a great first season, you’re not thinking that you’re letting down a little bit the next. But maybe letting up
just a little bit makes a difference — a goal here and a goal there. I think I’ve been able to get back to that level. The key is to just keep going.’’

Crawford cares. He doesn’t like to lose. He wants to be perfect, and his league-leading 1.41 goals-against average isn’t far from it. Those are all qualities you find in stars. In him, though, they are seen as evidence of someone you might not be able to trust.

That’s funny because, if you recall, it was Crawford who helped the Hawks roar back from a 3-0 series deficit against the Canucks two seasons ago. The Canucks won Game 7 in overtime.

‘‘There was no way that would have been possible without Corey Crawford,’’ captain Jonathan Toews said. ‘‘He was unbelievable in that series. He proved that he’s a playoff-worthy goaltender.’’

So, no, Toews said he never wondered whether Crawford had what it took, even when the goalie gave up easy goals in consecutive overtime losses to the Coyotes in the playoffs last season.

‘‘I think it’s tough for any young goaltender to all of sudden full on accept the starting job,’’ Toews said. ‘‘It comes with a lot of pressure; it comes with a lot of expectations. That was just a process for ‘Crow.’ I think you see how focused he is. He understands what he wants to do.’’

Dominate, from the looks of it.



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