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Tough position, but Blackhawks’ Corey Crawford is tougher guy

Updated: July 19, 2013 6:41AM



BOSTON — Look at Corey Crawford sometime.

Like as he gets blasted with the puck, chest-high, by the Bruins’ Andrew Ference early in Game 3 on Monday at TD Garden.

Crawford looks like a robot eating shrapnel from a cannon.

Would you like that to happen to you once?

How about having the equivalent of that shot, times 30, directed at you almost every other night for months on end?

And just for kicks, we’ll throw in a triple-overtime game in the playoffs and shoot 54 pucks at you, of which you will stop all but three.

No. You wouldn’t like that at all.

Unless you’re nuts.

I see that a teenager in Captiva, Fla., jumped out of his boat Monday onto a 30-foot, 50,000-pound whale shark, held on to its dorsal fin and rode it for a while. That guy might dig being a goalie.

But the rest of us, no.

And the Stanley Cup Final is where the pressure on a goaltender almost equals the hardness and velocity of the rubber bullets his foes want him to eat. Yet there is Crawford, the guy who still gets so little credit from Chicago hockey fans, saying he loves it all.

‘‘I’ve dreamed about it my whole life,’’ he said about making it to the Final. ‘‘Worked hard. It’s nice, man. It’s nice to finally get there after all the work.’’

But it was painful being there at the start of the second period when teammate Dave Bolland failed to clear the puck and it was stolen and blasted in by the Bruins’ Daniel Paille for the first goal. It’s hard enough being a target. What do you do when your pals screw up?

You’re supposed to rise above it. You’re supposed to stop lasers with your mitts and your big pants.

And going into the third game of the final round, Crawford was leading all playoff goalies in goals-against average at 1.72. Second was the Bruins’ Tuukka Rask at 1.73. Third was the Kings’ Jonathan Quick at 1.86.

Remember Quick? He was so good that folks touted him as the best in the NHL, an invincible shield, a bullet-proof wall — until the Hawks dispensed with him.

Crawford had a better goals-against average than the Sharks’ Antti Niemi, too. Niemi was the man the Hawks dispensed with after the 2010 Stanley Cup title.

Nobody thought Crawford, who was waiting to take Niemi’s place, was any good. Then Crawford steadily improved. Now he’s the man who holds the Hawks’ chances in the palm of his sweaty blocker.

I’m just asking again, but how would you like to be run into by two or three players, one being fellow Hawk Niklas Hjalmarsson, late in the second period, and get knocked through the unhinged posts like a bowling pin struck by a landslide?

Were the two goals Crawford gave up in the 2-0 loss his fault?

There’s the question nobody can answer, except to say: Who’s the goalie?

‘‘Corey was great tonight,’’ defenseman Duncan Keith said. ‘‘He made a lot of good saves.’’

Keith blamed the loss on the equally obvious: the Hawks’ pitiful power play. No goals, no how.

Crawford has played more minutes than any goalie in the playoffs, and if you think that won’t get to you, imagine just standing or squatting or diving onto a hard surface for up to four hours a night and report back to me.

If you can walk, excellent.

You’ll see Crawford posed in front of the goal, dripping sweat through his facemask like Kevin Garnett at the free-throw line. The game might be played on ice, but it’s a steam bath inside there.

I’d ask you to venture into the Hawks’ locker room one time and sniff Crawford’s armor, but I believe the fragrance might bring you to your knees. It’s the smell of a working man. Times a hundred.

Right now you’d be hard-pressed to find a better goalie than the 28-year-old Crawford for the ­Canadian national team for the ­Sochi Winter Olympics next year.

Crawford gets little respect in the United States. Who knows how they feel about him in Canada?

How about when Crawford skated madly out of the crease early in the game to stop a short-handed breakaway by the Bruins that left him all alone 30 feet from the net? Moments later, he had to face down the Bruins’ Brad Marchand, one-on-one, full speed, and made Marchand flinch at the last second and lose the puck.

Most of us would duck and weep. Crawford didn’t flinch.

Marchand skated toward the bench and smashed his stick so hard on the wall in rage that it busted in half and flew into the air.

It’s a hard game. Crawford’s a hard man. A good one. Even in a 2-0 loss.



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