The first game of the 2014 Western Conference Finals is in the books and Chicago tops the Kings.
2014 marks the third time in as many years that the Chicago Blackhawks have faced the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Finals for the Stanley Cup. Each time, Los Angeles Kings Jonathan Quick and the Chicago Blackhawks Corey Crawford have been between the pipes. In 2012, the Kings won. In 2013, the Chicago Blackhawks won.
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So which netminder is the one to get past?
According to Blackhawks’ captain Jonathan Toews, the player to beat is Corey Crawford.
Toews praised Crawford’s play. “Whether it's big penalty kills or us protecting situations late in games, he just seems to get better and better as the pressure mounts.” Crawford saved 25 out of 26 shots on goal, earning a .962 average. Toews notes “we want to keep raising our level of play as the stage gets bigger and bigger.”
Compared to Quick’s save average of .850 in the game, Chicago players find it surprising that Crawford continues to be ignored as a Conn Smythe (playoff MVP) finalist or being denied the NHL’s Vezina Trophy, an award given to the best of three goalies during the season. Crawford would rank just after the New York Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist, Montreal Canadiens’ Carey Price and Quick.
All three of the top goalies have Olympic gold medals, Vezina Trophies, and Conn Smythe awards to their names. However, Chicago doesn’t see ranking that way at all. When talking about the goalie, fellow player Brandon Saad backed up Toews. “He might be a little bit more focused but we saw that last year during the playoffs with how he can steal games and step up and take over a game.” Saad scored the power play goal in the first period that kept the team 1-0 until early in the second period.
Crawford’s personal work ethic of being prepared depends heavily on “knowing the other team, their tendencies” before the puck ever drops. And since Game 1 is in the books, he feels that “game 2 is now the most important” and he first needs “to rest up now and prepare.” Game 2 is on Wednesday at 8pm EST and that gives the goalie plenty of time to learn L.A.’s latest plays.
When asked by the press if Quick’s goaltending worries him, the man give an honest answer. “No, unless he skates down the ice and starts dangling around our guys.” The Kings players on the ice, the ones around his crease, maintain his attention. He concludes, “it really doesn't affect my game, whatever goes on at the other end."
Saad summed up the team’s opinion on Corey Crawford’s gameplay easily enough. “He did great tonight.”