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How will Crawford, Rask respond?

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Sam Gardner

Sam Gardner is a general assignment writer for FOXSports.com. Originally from Orlando, Fla., he previously covered the Orlando Magic for FOX Sports Florida and has also covered the NBA Finals, Stanley Cup Finals and MLB playoffs. Follow him on Twitter.

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Before both goaltenders lost control of the crease in Game 4’s 6-5 shootout on Wednesday, the Stanley Cup Final was mostly dominated by the guys with the extra padding in net.

Corey Crawford went from being unstoppable in Games 1-3 to not being able to stop a beach ball on his glove side in Game 4. And Tuukka Rask, who has three shutouts already in these playoffs, had his wheels totally come off with a chance to put his team up 3-1 in the series.

Behold, the visual evidence:

That kind of dual collapse is stunning from two of the best goaltenders in hockey, and there’s a thought that the team whose goalie best responds to adversity will have the advantage as the Bruins and Blackhawks play what amounts to a best-of-three for the Cup title, with Game 5 coming Saturday night in Chicago.

If Game 4 taught us anything, it’s that this series won’t be predictable, but it’s still worth investigating how these netminders have responded to adversity in the past. There isn’t a lot of evidence to work with, because Rask and Crawford are so good, so often, but here are a few examples from this season of how each player responded to a dud in net.

 

COREY CRAWFORD

The Dud: March 8, at Colorado Avalanche

Chicago brought a near-record 30-game point streak into Denver on March 8, and when the Blackhawks finally suffered their first regulation loss of the season, they made sure to do it in epic fashion. Crawford stopped just 14 of 19 shots and was pulled after two brutal periods in a 6-2 loss to the Avs to drop to 21-1-3 on the year. The .737 save percentage was Crawford's worst of the year. Here's the damage:

The Dud Part II: March 10, vs. Edmonton Oilers

Two days after his meltdown against Colorado, Crawford was back on the bench against Edmonton, but the poor play of Ray Emery — who allowed three goals in less than 10 minutes — necessitated the use of Crawford for the rest of the way. Unfortunately, Crawford didn’t exactly shut down the Oilers, either, allowing three goals on just 16 shots in a 6-5 Chicago loss. The .813 save percentage was Crawford’s second-worst mark of the season.

The Response: March 14, at Columbus Blue Jackets

After two consecutive disasters, Crawford got back on track in a 2-1 win over the Blue Jackets that came down to a shootout. Not only did Crawford stop 29 of Columbus’ 30 shots on goal, he also stonewalled Ryan Johansen and Derick Brassard in the shootout to seal the win. Two nights later, he had another one-goal outing in a road win over Dallas.


The Dud: March 25, vs. Los Angeles Kings

Crawford faced 36 shots that night and stopped just 31 of them in a 5-4 loss to the defending champions. He also allowed two goals in the final 12 minutes of play as the ‘Hawks gave away a win on home ice:

The Response: March 31, at Detroit Red Wings

This time, Crawford came back strong after a poor showing, stopping 33 of 34 shots in a 7-1 road win over the Detroit Red Wings. But he also had plenty of time to think about it, as he sat out the Blackhawks’ previous two games, in favor of Emery. A few games off did Crawford some good back then, but he won’t have that luxury this time around.


The Dud: April 4, vs. St. Louis Blues

The strange thing about Crawford is that most of his worst games in 2013 came on home ice. That was the case in April against the Blues, when Crawford allowed three goals on 22 shots in a shootout loss to visiting St. Louis. After entering the third with a 2-1 lead, Crawford allowed two Blues goals, then allowed four goals in six attempts during a prolonged shootout. In addition to the Blues game, Crawford also had a save percentage under .900 in home wins over Minnesota (March 5) and Nashville (April 19), and a home loss to Detroit (May 18).

The Response: April 12, vs. Detroit Red Wings

After slipping up against St. Louis, Crawford sat out the next three Blackhawks games. But when he returned to the net against Detroit more than a week later, he was back to his usual form. Crawford stopped 27 of the Wings’ 29 shots in a 3-2 win, then followed it up with a redemptive 30-save shutout of those pesky Blues on April 14, one of three shutouts on the year for the Canadian netminder.

 

TUUKKA RASK

The Dud: Jan. 31, vs. Buffalo Sabres

Like Crawford, Rask is absolutely impenetrable when he’s on his game. But when he’s bad — as he was in Game 4 — he’s really bad. Such was the case on the final night of January at home against the Sabres, when Rask allowed six goals on 31 shots in a 7-4 Bruins loss. Like in Game 4, the wheels fell off for Rask after a solid first period. Rask allowed three goals in the second period and then three more in the third in the defeat:

The Response: Feb. 2, at Toronto Maple Leafs

The six-goal flop against Buffalo was the furthest thing from Rask’s mind two nights later in Toronto, as he registered one of his league-leading five shutouts, outdueling Leafs netminder James Reimer in a 1-0 Bruins win. Rask stopped all 21 shots he faced that night, then followed it up by stopping 20 of 21 in a 2-1 win over Montreal four nights later.


The Dud: March 3, vs. Montreal Canadiens

Rask was a sieve during the third period of this 4-3 home loss to the Canadiens, allowing two goals on four shots as Boston gave up a one-goal lead in the first 10 minutes of the frame. For the game, Rask stopped 22 of 26 shots, his .846 save percentage representing a tie for his third-worst in a game this year.

The Dud Part II: March 5, at Washington Capitals

One of those other .846 save percentage games came two nights later, when Rask put up the exact same stat line — 22 of 26 shots saved — in a 4-3 overtime loss. After stopping all six shots he faced in the first period, Rask allowed two goals on 11 attempts in the second period and a game-tying goal from Wojtek Wolski with 6:05 left in regulation. The real killer, though, was Eric Fehr's overtime winner — a goal that came just 37 seconds into the frame.

The Redemption: March 9, vs. Philadelphia Flyers

You knew Rask wasn’t going to have three bad games in a row, and after a game off to rest, Rask returned to the ice with 23 saves in a shutout win over the Flyers. Rask tied for the NHL lead with five regular-season shutouts, and he has registered three more since the start of the Eastern Conference finals.


The Dud: March 27, vs. Montreal Canadiens

Aside from Game 4 and the Sabres game (above), Rask had just one other five-goal game this season — in a 6-5 shootout loss to the Habs in late March. Rask allowed three third-period goals, including the tying power-play goal with nine seconds left. Then, he allowed the winning goal to Brendan Gallagher on the 12th attempt of the shootout:

The Response: March 30, at Philadelphia Flyers

Rask played OK three nights later against Philadelphia, allowing two goals on 21 shots against the Flyers, but it wasn’t enough to get the win for the visiting Bruins. Rask’s real redemption came on April 4, after two games off, when he stopped all 40 shots he saw in a shutout of the New Jersey Devils. That win represented the second-most shots faced in a shutout for Rask, behind two 41-save shutouts, which came against the Panthers in 2010 and the Kings in 2011.

 

CONCLUSION

Rask and Crawford are two of the league's best goalies, and they’ve been playing lights-out hockey in the playoffs, regardless of what Game 4 may have had you think. Exciting as it was, Game 4 is unlikely to be repeated by either man in net — both of whom have shown a knack for bouncing back from adversity. 6-5 was fun, but expect a few more 2-1 games from here on out.

Tagged: Bruins, Sabres, Blackhawks, Red Wings, Kings, Canadiens, Flyers, Blues, Capitals, Corey Crawford, Tuukka Rask

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