It took over 80 minutes of hockey on Wednesday night, but Michal Handzus sent the United Center into a frenzy as he scored the overtime winner early in the second overtime to give the Chicago Blackhawks life in their Western Conference Final series against the Los Angeles Kings. Game 6 will be Friday night in LA with the Kings holding a 3-2 series lead.
And yet while the high-scoring game matched Tuesday’s Eastern Conference Final Game 5 between the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers in offensive production, it was the goaltending, or lackthereof, from Corey Crawford that still puts the Kings in the driver’s seat to the Stanley Cup Final.
Crawford wound up making 40 saves on 44 shots against the Kings, but it was his continued display of frustration and inability to control rebounds that should have Blackhawks fans worried. In particular, the go-ahead goal from Tanner Pearson showcased a giant brain cramp for Crawford, as a simple snap shot snuck past the blocker and into the net while Crawford was screened. A Stanley Cup champion goalie needs to make that save.
While coach Joel Quenneville chose not to pull Crawford as he has done all postseason, the argument can certainly be made that the Hawks’ netminder was not deserving of the win Wednesday night. He fought off simple shots all night, and left ample rebound chances that the Kings could not cash in on. While the cliche of a goaltender being a “battler” remains poignant, Crawford’s positioning has left a lot to be desired for the Blackhawks.
Chicago jumped out to an early 2-0 lead over LA, but the resilient Kings fought back and had a chance to open up a two-goal lead on the Blackhawks. Jonathan Quick also gave up a bad rebound goal to Ben Smith early in the third period to tie the game at five, but his demeanor never showcased the frustration that his counterpart from Chicago demonstrated.
A goaltender is supposed to remain calm, cool and collected at all times, and never show any emotions that can damage the psyche of his team. At one instance during Game 5, Crawford came to the bench and slammed his stick multiple times. After each goal Crawford looked towards the rafters, seeking an answer as to how the puck wound up behind him. A goalie has a little more leniency for these emotional outbursts at home, but a game on the road, with the sing-song chant of “Crawford, Crawford” can enter the mind even further.
It is because of the home ice, and cooler demeanor of Quick that the Kings should close out the series on Friday night. Even with Patrick Kane heating up for the Blackhawks, another lackluster performance in goal will send the Blackhawks packing.