Tim Wharnsby - Tuesday Nov. 19, 2013 11:30

Corey Crawford must prove his worth for Olympic inclusion

Blackhawks goaltender stuck in a crowded Canadian field

Even with a Stanley Cup title on his resumé, Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford isn't a lock to make Canada's Olympic team. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Corey Crawford arrived at training camp in a blissful state of mind this fall.

A couple weeks earlier, just before he was about to spend his day with the Stanley Cup with family and friends on Montreal’s South shore community of Châteauguay, the Chicago Blackhawks awarded their goalie with a six-year, $36-million US extension, even though he had a season remaining on his current contract.

A week before his day with the Stanley Cup and his contract extension, the 28-year-old hob-knobbed with the game’s elite at the Canadian Olympic orientation camp in Calgary. Of course, two months before Calgary, there was Crawford with the Stanley Cup held high over his head in celebration after he helped beat the Boston Bruins in six games. 

“It’s a big high right now, hopefully I don’t come down from it,” Crawford said during his day with Stanley Cup. “It’s been amazing. The last couple months have been great.”

Crawford has followed up his amazing ride with a sound start this season. He has 13 wins in 17 starts and there doesn’t appear to be any Stanley Cup hangover for this lad.

Yet, does he get enough love? Here we are six weeks before Steve Yzerman and his Canadian Olympic executives announce the team and the favourites to land the three goaltender roster spots are Carey Price (Montreal), Roberto Luongo (Phoenix) and Mike Smith (Phoenix). Crawford had accomplished plenty, but it doesn’t appear to be enough.

Maybe it’s because there isn’t much faith in our Canadian goalies these days. Prior to Crawford, the last four to win a Stanley Cup – Cam Ward (2006), Jean-Sebastien Giguere (2007), Chris Osgood (2008) and Marc-Andre Fleury (2009) – have won only a combined six playoff series after their title years. Osgood was the only goalie who returned to a final after winning a Stanley Cup.

Even last spring, after a 51-save performance in the Blackhawks’ triple overtime win in series opener, the talk over the next few days was Crawford’s vulnerable glove hand after the Bruins scored victories in Games 2 and 3 to take a 2-1 series lead.

He rebounded to win the next three games to lead Chicago to the Cup title. His save percentage was a stingy .932 in the Blackhawks’ successful run. Yet, when he arrived in Calgary, the chatter was about Canada’s weak link, its goaltending.

“Honestly, I don’t think any one of us listens to [the criticism],” Crawford said. “It’s just an opinion. Maybe because there’s so many great players up front and on D, the goaltending gets overshadowed a little bit.”

Crawford remains confident

All that matters for Crawford is that he has the confidence of his teammates in Chicago, something he’s had since his rookie season in 2010-11.

After the Blackhawks won the 2009-10 Stanley Cup, starting goalie Antti Niemi bolted to the San Jose Sharks via free agency, and backup Cristobal Huet returned to Switzerland. This left Crawford as Chicago’s new No. 1.

In Crawford’s first foray into the Stanley Cup playoffs, he almost brought the Blackhawks back from the brink when they fell behind 3-0 to the Vancouver Canucks in the first round of the 2011 playoffs.

“I think his coming-out party was against Vancouver [in 2011],” Blackhawks blue-liner Brent Seabrook said. “We were down 3-0 and he was huge. He was a big part of why we got back into it. He plays hard at the right times and seems to make the big stops.”

Never represented Canada

He has never represented Canada at any level – under-17, under-18, world junior, world championship or Olympics. But like Seabrook stated, Crawford’s best attribute is how he comes through in big games.

The year he helped the Wildcats get to the QMJHL final, his save percentage was .940. His Stanley Cup playoffs career save percentage has been an eye-popping .924.

“I don’t think it changes at all,” Crawford said. “Every year, the goal is to win.’’

Canadian Olympic goalies

Each week, we rank the top contenders for the three goalkeeper spots on the Canadian Olympic team based on their play to date:

1. Mike Smith (Phoenix) - The Coyotes goalie has gone 11-1-3 in his past 15 decisions and 12-3-3 overall this season. He leads the league in saves (584), shots faced (637), appearances (19) and minutes (1,106:36).

2. Corey Crawford (Chicago) - No Canadian goalie has more wins than Crawford's 13 after a 23-save effort to beat the San Jose Sharks 3-1 in a Western Conference showdown on Sunday.

3. Josh Harding (Minnesota) - The inspirational Harding has 12 wins and leads the league in goals against (1.25) and save percentage (.946). 

4. Carey Price (Montreal) - His 7-8-2 record is ordinary, but his .936 save percentage is outstanding and so was his week with 101 saves in 105 shots.

5. Martin Brodeur (New Jersey) - The 41-year-old goalie has been sensational lately. He has won his last four starts with two shutouts and 97 saves in 100 shots.

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