The Chicago Blackhawks hoisted the Stanley Cup in 2010 with Antti Niemi as their netminder. This year it was Corey Crawford‘s job to do the same thing after Antti Niemi signed with the San Jose Sharks. In my opinion, if Antti Niemi was in net for Tuesday’s Game 7 against the Vancouver Canucks the game would’ve been over in the second period.
Corey Crawford stood on his head last night for his teammates, just as he did the entire Western Conference Quarterfinals and during the regular season. Crawford stopped 36 out of the 38 shots he faced in the 2-1 overtime loss. He received minimal help from his teammates throughout the game, and yes, that does have something to do with the Canucks’ swarming defense. The Canucks didn’t bring home the 2011 Presidents’ Trophy for no reason.
Yes, just like any other goalie in the NHL, Crawford had a few bad games and let in a few weak goals, but that’s part of the game. It frustrates me when I hear Blackhawks fans say how they miss Niemi. Yes, he won a Stanley Cup with the Hawks, but Corey Crawford has filled Niemi’s void better then anyone expected. I’m not sure how Crawford has not gotten more consideration for the Calder Memorial Trophy for the NHL’s rookie of the year. Niemi’s stats as a Blackhawk and Crawfords 2011 stats are almost identical.
The only difference between Niemi’s 2010 season and Crawford’s 2011 season is the supporting cast the two had on the ice in front of them. Not only did the Blackhawks have to unload numerous key players from their championship team in 2010, but the 2011 Blackhawks could not stay healthy. It seemed like as soon as one player got healthy, another went down with an injury. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook were the only two Hawks that played all 82 regular season games.
The injuries for the Blackhawks carried over into the postseason. Dave Bolland missed the first three games against Vancouver. Bryan Bickell‘s wrist was slashed with a skate. Thomas Kopecky went down early in the series. Brent Seabrook missed a couple of games after taking a head-hit from Canucks’ forward Raffi Torres. All of the injuries and absences added up for the Hawks, and it’s surprising, after all the adversity the team faced following their championship that they even made the postseason.
The Blackhawks’ depth dwindled in front of Crawford throughout the 89 games played during the 2011 season. That doesn’t help any netminders’ workload by any means, especially a rookie. But yet, Crawford continued to prevail throughout the season and lead his team to the postseason.
Corey Crawford stood on his head for the Blackhawks all season, and especially after Tuesday night’s Game 7 performace, he deserves the respect from everyone who follows the NHL. Any doubters and any haters need to take the time to watch his performance throughout the regular season and postseason before judgments are made about his talent.