Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, sports happens. Nothing – and that’s absolute – ever happens the way it’s supposed to. Playoff hockey is one of those rare occurrences where the only guarantee is the only thing you know for certain, isn’t. You can’t watch an NHL Top 10 without seeing something that makes your mouth hang open as you struggle to ask “What?”
Game 1 between the Chicago Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild is a perfect example. To put it into context, the only thing that went right was the
beginning and the end.
Goaltending is one of (if not the) many necessities a team needs in order to win the Stanley Cup. Goalies have a tendency shine brightest in the second season and carry teams that might not otherwise be doing their part. That’s why in the rare case that a player on the losing team wins the Conn Smythe, chances are it’s going to a goaltender. Since 1965, it’s been awarded to a goalie 16 times – equal to the number of times it’s gone to a center. I’d say that makes perfect sense. Everyone loves a goalie, even when they don’t.
So goaltending is important. We get it. You can then imagine the saliva dripping from the Blackhawks’ mouthpieces when they found out Niklas Backstrom wouldn’t be making the start due to an injury suffered during warm-ups.
On the most recent Hawks Cast, Joe and Mac were the majority in believing the series would go as a sweep in the Hawks favor. As for myself, having a knack for seeing the bad even on a sunny day, gave the prediction the Wild could be counted on to steal at least one game.
Regardless of our difference in opinion, we all agreed that if the Wild were to take a game or two in this series, they would be carried on the shoulders of Backstrom.
What were we supposed to think when backup Josh Harding got the nod? Only his fifth start all year, and first since a January game against the Hawks in which he was pulled after getting lit up? Not to mention his personal battles with Multiple Sclerosis and the struggles to find the correct balance of medication to treat it. The fact that he is a willing participant in practice is enough to generate MVP buzz.
So what were you, me, and the Hawks supposed to think? Well, as much as you don’t promise crazy a baby, you don’t decide a game before it’s played. No, you don’t. Stop it. You’re still doing it. You’re still thinking with Harding in net, the Hawks can’t lose. Okay, I am too. After seeing their game plan for the Hawks though, I’m beginning to think they’re not as dependent on a goalie as first suggested.
The hometown favorites aren’t immune to their own goalie story, though.
The thing about saying phrases like “Corey Crawford sucks” and “I don’t feel comfortable with Crawford in net” is that it’s a safety blanket. It’s an opportunity saved for later; to be able to say “I told ya so” to the person who was unfortunate enough to sit next to you at the bar. It’s especially asinine when the guy you’re talking about has the career numbers Crawford does. Sure, his playoff numbers leave more to be desired, but like we’ve covered – shit happens in the playoffs.
So, when Cal Clutterbuck scores and the internet erupts with Crawford haters coming out of the woodwork, what then? Feel better? It’s five minutes into the playoffs’ first game and you’ve already written the Hawks off? What team have you been watching all season?
I’m not here to make excuses for Crawford or say that it wasn’t a soft goal. He said as much himself. It’s what he did afterward that impressed me most – 26 saves, including two on Kyle Brodziak to close out the first and keep the Hawks within one. Last year, we might have seen a meltdown. That isn’t the case this season, as Crawford has shown time and again to shake off goals allowed and remain focused.
There’s a certain level of hypocrisy that comes with writing off a goalie like Harding while a lot of us don’t even support the goalie sporting the Indian head.
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