Crawford stifles Tampa, Blackhawks tie Stanley Cup Final
CHICAGO (AP) The idea that he could be standing in net as the Chicago Blackhawks clinch a championship at home certainly occupies a corner of Corey Crawford's mind.
It hasn't happened since 1938, when they were known as the ''Black Hawks.'' But that could be about to change.
The Blackhawks and Lightning are tied 2-2 in the Stanley Cup Final heading into Game 5 at Tampa Bay on Saturday. Win that, and Chicago will have a chance to clinch at home on Monday.
''It's definitely motivation,'' Crawford said.
The Blackhawks are in this position because Chicago's favorite lightning rod withstood a late barrage from the Lightning, preserving a 2-1 victory on Wednesday night. Instead of falling into a 3-1 hole, the Blackhawks pulled even in the series and moved a step closer to their third Stanley Cup in six years.
''We've gone through these situations before, this team,'' Crawford said. ''I think maybe the experience helps a little bit with pressure. I think we were able to deal with it a little bit better than maybe if it's your first year, first time going through something like this.''
The two teams have basically played to a dead heat so far.
At no point has either team led by more than one goal. It's also the third time in NHL history and first since 1968 that the first four games in a final have all been decided by one goal.
The last minute or so in Game 4 was particularly tense, with Tampa Bay unleashing shot after shot. But Crawford dug in.
''We're impressed,'' said captain Jonathan Toews, who scored his first goal of the series. ''But we're definitely not surprised that Crow shows up and plays the way he did.''
That's the way it's been with Crawford ever since he became the regular goalie during the 2010-11 season.
He's been brilliant at times, and he helped Chicago win a championship two years ago. But there have also been some rough stretches.
That included a benching for poor play early in the playoffs. But there was no doubt Crawford was at his best in this game, particularly during the final minute or so, and the Blackhawks can look forward to two more games.
They can thank their goalie for standing his ground near the end.
''We saw in 2013 what he's capable of doing,'' coach Joel Quenneville said, referring to Chicago's Stanley Cup run. ''This season, regular season-wise, he was outstanding. So we're happy to have him. We know the way he prepares and likes the battle.''
They also know what a target he is for Blackhawks fans frustrated by the soft goals he has a tendency to let in. Quenneville even benched Crawford in favor of Scott Darling for part of the first-round series against Nashville, after he gave up three goals in the first period of the opener and again after a 6-2 loss in Game 2.
He eventually returned in that series and has been solid since then in the playoffs, helping the Blackhawks get past the Predators, Minnesota and Anaheim.
But he could not have been better near the end on Wednesday.
''He stayed calm and poised in the net, nothing new that we haven't seen from him,'' Patrick Kane said. ''He's a big part of our team. Obviously, we have a lot of confidence in him and he shows us night in and night out what he can do back there.''
Quenneville called it a ''goalie win,'' a far different cry then after Game 3 when he said Crawford's play was ''just OK''.
''Loved how he battled,'' the coach said. ''He's a battler. Great illustration how he stayed with it, how they swarmed us at the end. His movement, he was following the puck. He was big. Nice response.''
Crawford stopped 24 shots in the game and was fearless with time winding down and the Lightning firing away after pulling goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. He made some neat stops and Tampa Bay star Steven Stamkos missed wide from point blank range.
''It was pretty intense there,'' Crawford said.
Yet he came up big after two games that he felt were subpar. He also improved to 43-29-0 in 74 playoff games with a .919 save percentage.
''He's been a huge part of our success,'' Toews said. ''Every time things maybe don't quite go our way for a couple games, for some reason he's the one who takes the majority of the responsibility. I don't know why. I mean, at the end of the day he's a selfless player and a great teammate. He's ready for whatever.'