CHICAGO – As a hockey fan, you often identify an era with the man who is between the pipes.
In my childhood, that was Eddie Belfour.
“The Eagle” was the man in the net for the Blackhawks when I was growing up in Rolling Meadows. Sure the team had stars like Roenick, Larmer and Chelios, but Belfour’s presence in net made him as much of a face of the team as anyone else.
During the time he was in net the Blackhawks became one of the NHL’s elite teams, helping them to the President’s Trophy in 1991, three conference finals appearances and a Stanley Cup Final in 1992. He certainly wasn’t perfect, but his aggressive style and strong play represents a solid era of the franchise.
The same could be said for Blackhawks fans of the past. There was Glenn Hall in the 1950’s and 1960’s whose incredible 502 consecutive, complete game record included a 1961 Stanley Cup in Chicago.
Tony Esposito was the same way after Hall, helping the team to the Final in 1971 and 1973. His 418 wins put him on the level of Hull and Mikita and defined another successful era of the franchise.
Corey Crawford is doing the same for what is the greatest time in franchise history, yet many are not talking about a pretty impressive record that he’s chasing.
All of the focus has been, like most of the time during this era of Blackhawks hockey, has been on Patrick Kane. It’s deserved considering the forward already has tied his career-high in goals and there is a chance he can break the 50-goal plateau this season.
But don’t forget about Crawford and the incredible record he’s chasing.
That’s 15-the NHL modern-day record for shutouts in a season set by Esposito with the Blackhawks in the 1969-1970 season. George Hainsworth had 22 shutouts in the early days of the league back in the 1928-1929 season, but Tony’s record is the one typically recognized as the top mark.
So far this year Crawford has had seven of them to lead the NHL, which is already his personal high. He’ll need eight to tie and nine to break the record and that could be a tall task with just 31 games remaining in the season.
But the fact that Blackhawks fans can even discuss such a mark is a tribute to how great the goaltender has been and how fans should appreciate his great efforts. Along with leading the league in shutouts he also leads the league in saves with 1,170, an example of how a number of times Crawford has faced an exorbitant amount of shots when the defense hasn’t been at his best.
In January he was the key to the team’s 12-game winning streak as he finished the month with a 9-2 record and a 1.86 goals against average. It has added to his already stellar 28-12-2 record, putting him on pace to easily break his own career record for victories in a season of 33.
Yet with Kane grabbing the attention as an MVP candidate, some of that gets forgotten among fans and especially those outside of Chicago. After all Crawford, who was the NHL’s No. 2 star in January, was left off the All-Star game roster in move that seemed to be a mistake with every passing game in the month.
But if you are paying close attention to the next 31 games as the Blackhawks jockey for position in the Western Conference, make sure you focus is not just on No. 88 on the ice.
The guy wearing No. 50 is chasing a few personal bests and a highly regarded NHL record. It’s his play as much as anyone that will define this most successful era of Blackhawks history and the next possible edition to it.