CHICAGO — Through five-plus periods Wednesday night, Corey Crawford was the Blackhawks’ backbone.
After giving up a third goal early in the third period, when Patrice Bergeron increased the Bruins’ lead to 3-1, the Chicago goalie dug deep.
As Chicago fought its way back to tie the game, 3-3, at the 12:14 mark on Johnny Oduya’s deflected goal, Crawford squelched everything on his way to a 51-save performance in a triple-overtime 4-3 victory to take Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.
“Corey had an excellent game,’’ said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. “He made several key saves, particularly in overtime. He seemed to just move forward from the next save to the next save and didn’t get rattled and seemed to get stronger as the game went on as well.
“All year long, all playoff long, he’s been very consistent, his approach, his demeanor. He welcomes the next challenge.’’
Crawford improved to 13-5-1 in the postseason with a .936 save percentage and 1.73 goals-against average.
He said the Blackhawks were excited to take the series lead.
“After playing so many minutes, it’s great to come away with a win,’’ said Crawford, 28. “It’s a little exhausting. That’s the longest game I’ve ever played in. It’s so much fun to win that one.’’
The series was billed as equal powers coming out of the Eastern and Western Conferences, and the first outing certainly supported that.
“It was back and forth and [Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask] made some big stops,’’ said Crawford. “There were scoring chances on both sides, some big hits, almost everything you could have in a game was there. It was a great effort by both teams. It’s just that little bit that gets you the win.’’
When Milan Lucic put the Bruins up, 2-0, at the 51-second mark of the second period, the Blackhawks shifted gears. They cut the lead in half when forward Brandon Saad scored at 3:08. They battled back from a second two-goal deficit in the third, something Crawford said they’ve been able to do all season.
“Whatever happens, we seem to play the same way,’’ said Crawford. “We seem to play with confidence and not get on our heels. We just kept playing hard and believed we would tie it up.’’
In the overtimes, the Bruins had plenty of chances, with 12 shots in the first session, 10 in the second, and 7 in the third.
David Krejci, Tyler Seguin, Johnny Boychuk, Jaromir Jagr, and others tested Crawford on a regular basis but between the goalie, the posts, and the strong defense, all threats were fended off.
“I felt a little more zoned in, in the OT,’’ said Crawford. “You always have to make the next save, or else it’s over. You’re focused on everything to make sure the next one doesn’t go in.’’
Having said that, Crawford wasn’t feeling any undue pressure given the stakes.
“You just go out there and play,’’ he said. “We were playing with confidence and I think everyone was excited thinking they were going to be the guy to score it, except for me.’’
One of the Blackhawks’ top performers up front was Marian Hossa, who had one assist and a game-high 10 shots on net. Hossa said the Blackhawks’ faith in Crawford helped them feel confident on offense.
“He is so strong for us,’’ said Hossa. “He proved it in overtime. He made some really huge saves.
“I thought they had lots of odd-man rushes at the end and he was there for us. He won the game for us, basically, because it could’ve been a long time over.
“I think he’s in the best form I ever saw him play and it’s impressive he’s playing so strong for us.’’
The Blackhawks have a talented corps of defensemen, and they did a fine job helping Crawford. Still, Brent Seabrook, one of Chicago’s top blue liners, said most of the credit goes to the goalie.
“I think he has been huge for us throughout the whole playoffs,’’ said Seabrook. “I thought he was great early and throughout the whole game. I thought his overtime periods were unbelievable.’’
Even when the Blackhawks trailed by a pair of goals on two occasions, they believed they had a chance because of their resilience and their dependence on Crawford.
“He really gave us an opportunity to come back and get chances and keep us in the game,’’ said Seabrook. “I thought he was huge for us.’’Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at email@example.com.