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Know Thy Enemy: Blackhawks Goalie Preview

After an unsteady first round Corey Crawford is again the number one man in net for Chicago, and back in a third consecutive Conference Final.

Despite early wobbles Crawford has regained the form that claimed the Cup for Chicago in 2013.
Despite early wobbles Crawford has regained the form that claimed the Cup for Chicago in 2013.
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Nikolai Khabibulin, Cristobal Huet, and Antti Niemi; the three goalies who saw playoff time in the ramp up of this current run by the Chicago Blackhawks.

Yet after Khabibulin backstopped the Hawks to the 2008-09 Western Conference Final, with Huet backup for that plus the following season, and Niemi made enough stops to help Chicago claim the Stanley Cup for the first time in 49 years in 09-10, the Blackhawks turned to Corey Crawford as their starter for the 10-11 season. From the beginning he provided better than league average goaltending, and despite first round exits in his first two playoff forays (only 11-12 can truly be laid at his feet for a .893 save percentage) he has developed into the backbone in net for the Blackhawk machine.

It's a wonder that there's still this pervading sense that Chicago succeeds in spite of their goalie, as Crawford has placed in the top half of league starters in save percentage all but one of his seasons as a starter, and finished 6th twice. Perhaps it's because he's between the same cage that was once occupied by the likes of legendary shutout specialists Glenn Hall and Tony Esposito, or multiple time individual trophy winner Ed Belfour. Maybe it's the simple fact that he's the goalie for the best core of skaters in the history of the franchise.

Whatever the reason, Crawford is an under-appreciated part of what helps Chicago go. After getting roasted in the opening round by the Predators, he roared back with a spectacular series against Minnesota in the face of his team losing the shot attempt battle. Perhaps even more troubling for Ducks fans is that Crawford seem to play particularly well against Anaheim.

For a Chicago team that comes strutting in with a feathered robe like Ric Flair, having claimed the Cup two of the last five times it's been won and making their fifth conference final in seven, he is the man that the Ducks will have to beat if they are to earn the chance to become the man.

Woo! What a challenge it will be.

How did their season go?

Name

Record

Save Percentage

GAA

Crawford 32-20-5 .924 2.27
Darling 9-4-0 .936 1.94
Raanta 7-4-1 .936 1.89

In his fifth season as Chicago's undisputed number one netminder Crawford turned in a performance on par with his career-best numbers from the lockout shortened 12-13 season. He finished in the upper half amongst starters in GAA, saves, and wins, while placing sixth in the league in save percentage. This is Crawford's fourth season earning more than thirty wins, and he faced a heavier workload in doing so seeing an average of 3.2 more shots against per game.

While at 6'2" he's at the league average as far as goalie size, Crawford uses his frame well to take up space and has the athleticism to come up with spectacular saves. He's a battler, though when his game is off he tends to get lit up. At times the glove hand is an issue, and success can be had "passing off his pads" with shots. His most successful regular season stretch saw him go 6-0-1 from February 26 at Florida to March 17 hosting the Islanders; in that run he had a .964 SV%, a shutout, and made a season high 46 saves in a 2-1 home shootout win over Edmonton on March 6.

Crawford was second best in the league amongst starters with a five-on-five low danger save percentage at 98.49, the medium danger 93.24 is in the bottom half, and 84.38 high danger mark is slightly above the median. For all situations his low is a league best 98.11, his 92.62 med is good for 13th, and 83.30 hi percentage is in the dead middle at 15th. With the Hawks shorthanded amongst goalies that have seen more than 200 minutes at a disadvantage his 95.54 low is 5th, med 87.23 is lower half, and 79.37 high is 13th.

The story of Scott Darling is well known at this point, a career journeyman from the University of Maine who kicked an alcohol habit to rise through the ranks and beat out incumbent backup Antti Raanta. Darling came to the rescue in the first round against Nashville, making 42 saves to win game one in relief in double overtime, then backstopping wins in games three and four in Chicago. He was wobbly in the Hawks game 5 loss, and got the hook just past the midway mark of game six after conceding three times on 12 shots.

Stats vs. Ducks

Name

Record

Save Percentage

GAA

Crawford 2-0-0 Season

9-4-1 Career

.957 Season

.926 Career

1.00 Season

1.88 Career

Darling 0-1-0 Season .960 Season 1.04 Season

It's as if Crawford has harbored a grudge since he was called in for mop-up duty in his first appearance against Anaheim back on February 24, 2008. Teemu Selanne victimized the then-rookie to pass Maurice Richard on the all time goal scoring list as Crawford replaced starter Patrick Lalime for the final 11:22 of the first period. His revenge came nine days later when he earned his first career shutout making 19 saves in only his second NHL start. Since then he has finished with a winning record against the Ducks every year save 10-11, when he went 2-2-0.

In the four seasons since Crawford has gone 6-1-1, with the only blemishes coming back in 12-13 season. The lone regulation defeat came on March 20, 2013 with the Ducks tallying twice in a span of 1:04 in the later stages of the third period, Selanne's goal on an odd-man rush with 4:23 to play proved the game winner. The past two seasons have seen Crawford post a .958 SV% against Anaheim. Two of his 12 career shutouts have come at the expense of Anaheim.

Darling's only appearance against the Ducks came early in the season on October 28 when he was out-dueled by John Gibson, as the Ducks goalie made 38 stops in Anaheim's 1-0 win at United Center. Devante Smith-Pelly's shorthanded breakaway goal after a Brent Seabrook mishandle at the blue line was the only one of 25 shots that eluded him.

Playoff Experience

Name

Record

Save Percentage

GAA

Crawford 5-1 Season

37-24 Career

.916 Season

.920 Career

2.60 Season

2.25 Career

Darling 3-1 Season .936 Season 2.21 Season

Over the last three postseasons the only other goalie to play as many playoff games as Crawford (49) is the Rangers Henrik Lundqvist. In that span Crawford has gone 32-16, with a remarkable 22-4 record at United Center. Since his first two playoff runs where Chicago lost in seven to Vancouver in the 10-11 first round then in six to Phoenix in 11-12, Crawford has a .935 SV% in home games but it tumbles to .907 on the road. He's allowed more than three goals at home just four times, and three of those were against Los Angeles last season.

Another area where Crawford has excelled since 2013 is in elimination games, where he's a merciless 12-1. In every series where Chicago has picked up their third win before game six he's won the next game. He tended the Hawks rally from a 3-1 hole in the second round against Detroit in 2013, and almost did the same in last years Western Conference Final before losing in overtime in game seven. Crawford's save percentage in knockout contests is .930, and of the eight series clinching wins five have been at home and three on the road.

In the past three years Crawford is 15-7 with the Blackhawks leading in a series and has a .930 SV% in those situations, that rate not changing whether at home with a 9-3 record or on the road where he's gone 6-4. When Chicago is trailing in a series Crawford is 7-4 with a .917 SV%, going 4-0 at United Center with a .942 SV% and 3-4 on the road while his SV% dips to .900.

To put it simply the Ducks are facing a battle tested goalie that has performed extremely well at home, particularly when the pressure is on and the Hawks are behind in the series. It's no wonder he was expected to become a big game goalie when he was drafted in the second round, 52nd overall back in 2003, and the performance in elimination games is a testament to that. Crawford posted a .947 SV% in the sweep of the Wild, and considering his regular season history against the Ducks stands to be one of the biggest factors in the result of the series.