Top Shelf: Crawford answers critics as Hawks close in on Cup

Not even a win could insulate Corey Crawford from criticism after his Chicago Blackhawks took Game 4, but the goaltending experts will have little to say after his rebound performance on Saturday.

Even though the Blackhawks held on for a 6-5 overtime win in Wednesday's wild contest in Boston, the subject of Crawford's weak glove hand was a common topic among hockey fans in the ramp-up to Game 5. After stopping 23-of-24 shots in Saturday's pivotal 3-1 win against the Boston Bruins, however, it's doubtful we'll be hearing as much about Crawford's catcher before Chicago goes for a Stanley Cup clinching win on Monday.

Backing a two-goal performance from Patrick Kane, Crawford allayed any lingering fears about his perceived flaws in net and helped Chicago take a 3-2 lead in the series. It wasn't a spectacular or flashy performance but it was more than enough to give the Blackhawks the upper hand.

Crawford is well acquainted with critics. Many of them placed the blame for Chicago's first-round exit against Phoenix last spring squarely on his shoulders. Then after Crawford went 19-5-5 with a 1.94 goals against average during this year's shortened season, the naysayers said Ray Emery should be installed as the No. 1 for the playoffs.

"I'm not really listening to it," said Crawford after Game 5. "I have a job to do. Whatever is being said doesn't really affect what I'm going to do on the ice."

Perhaps, the 28-year-old's long road to the NHL after being picked by Chicago in the 2003 draft has given Crawford thick skin but his approach in handling the critics should've been a good sign the goalie would bounce back on Saturday. He could've became indignant about those folks who were questioning his prowess after Game 4, but Crawford chose to laugh off his detractors instead.

"Last series they were talking about my blocker side," said Crawford. "Both sides are bad, I guess."

Crawford did allow a goal on his glove side in Game 5. However, when the shot in question is a laser off the stick of Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara, owner of the hardest slapshot ever recorded, it's unlikely Crawford will be hearing much about letting that one by.

"Rock solid," said Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville about Crawford's Game 5. "You know, I think everybody was asking going into it, Corey just moves forward. He's big, he moves, he anticipates, and nothing bothers him, and just looks to look after the next shot."

While the bounce-back effort from Crawford was huge for the Blackhawks, so was the havoc created by Kane, who seemed to have a puck-attracting magnet on his stick the whole night. After beating Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask twice in Game 5, Kane is gaining traction as a Conn Smythe contender. His nine goals this spring are second in the NHL to teammate Patrick Sharp, and Kane's 19 total points leaves him behind only Boston's David Krejci.

While Kane could be close to adding a playoff MVP to his mantle, the Blackhawks may have to clinch a title without the help of their 2010 Conn Smythe winner, Jonathan Toews. Chicago's captain was leveled on a hit by Boston's Johnny Boychuk in the second period and returned for only a few shifts before sitting out the entire third.

But Toews, who sat on the bench with his team during the third stanza, seems to have a better chance to play this Wednesday in Boston than Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron, who was taken to a Chicago hospital for observation after suffering an undisclosed injury in Game 5.

The status of both players, who happen to have claimed the NHL's last two Selke Trophies as the league's top defensive forwards, is a huge storyline heading into Game 6.

Neither head coach had much in the way of positive information about either player in their postgame comments. Quenneville said he's "hopeful" Toews will be ready for Wednesday, while Boston's Claude Julien revealed there was no update on Bergeron before musing how "there's no concern until you get an update."

Nobody likes to see injuries, but Crawford has to be glad the story heading into Game 6 will be about banged-up players and not his perceived lack of a glove hand. Then again, after his performance on Saturday, it's clear Crawford was more than capable of putting that issue to rest on his own.