Much of the talk concerning the impending Chicago Blackhawks–St. Louis Blues first round playoff series has centered on the two teams’ injury woes, especially those of St. Louis. While this is reasonable in light of the almost unbelievable number of Blues players nursing some ailment or another, focusing too much on it could easily lead one to overlook a player whose contribution to this series will arguably be bigger than anyone else’s.
That player, of course, is Corey Crawford, Chicago’s simultaneously celebrated and disparaged goaltender. Crawford suffers from what one might call “Chris Osgood syndrome,” constantly having his achievements written off simply because the team in front of him is strong.
For better or worse, Crawford will have a bigger say in this series’ outcome than any other player except perhaps Ryan Miller. Which version of Crawford shows up will all but determine whether it is the Blackhawks or the Blues moving on to the second round.
If it is last year’s Conn Smythe-worthy iteration, Chicago is in the driver’s seat. The Blackhawks already have a significant edge over the Blues in top-end forward talent, and haven’t had anywhere near the goal scoring problems that the Blues have suffered from in recent weeks. If Crawford is on his game, St. Louis doesn’t possess a notable advantage over Chicago in any facet of the game.
Crawford has had a solid, if somewhat inconsistent season, and postseason expectations are sky-high in the Windy City. It remains to be seen if he will fall short of, meet, or shatter them as he did less than one calendar year ago.