No time soon will Blackhawks fans forget Antti Niemi and his contributions during the Stanely Cup run last season. What many may not remember is Niemi and Corey Crawford were viewed equally for the backup goaltending job behind Cristobal Huet prior to 2009-10.
With Niemi out of AHL options and Crawford’s contract still at two-way status, Niemi may have won that job simply based off default and not talent. Rather than collecting a Stanley Cup ring, Crawford toiled in Rockford for another season and didn’t give up hope his time would come.
He got his shot this season, and what a hell of an impression he made.
After securing the No. 1 job from the disappointing Marty Turco in mid-November, Crawford solidified himself as a solid goaltender who kept the Blackhawks in many, many games despite his teammates not playing strong in front of him. From Nov. 14 through the rest of the regular season, Crawford went 32-14-6 with a 2.25 GAA and finished the season starting the final 27 games. His impressive numbers and poise helped make up for what could have been another season of a goalie controversy in Chicago.
Here’s a look at his full season numbers:
When Bowman decided to let Niemi walk and sign with the San Jose Sharks, the uproar began and continued through the Turco Experiment’s disappointing end. As I wrote recently, Stan Bowman viewed Crawford as the long-term solution in net, though Bowman wasn’t expecting it to happen for another year.
Instead, Crawford secured the reigns and won over fans much sooner than anticipated. And that may have single-handedly been a main reason the Blackhawks were able to fight through shotty defense, inconsistent offense and horrendous penalty killing to even qualify for the postseason.
In the playoff series against Vancouver, Crawford got some bad break through the first three games before shutting the door through the next four. His performance in Game 6’s overtime victory was the main reason the Blackhawks forced Game 7. And facing the biggest game of his short career, Crawford again delievered before an in-zone turnover hung him out to dry.
The view on Crawford at season’s end is a stunning turn from what most everyone expected entering October. The Blackhawks have seemed to finally found their goaltender of the present and future.
Now, just give him his years and money so we’re not hoping the “Young, Unproven Goalie has Success and Unlimited Potential” story has to be written about Hannu Toivonen.