Scott Darling (John Russell/Getty Images)
After falling behind 3-0 to the Nashville Predators, the Chicago Blackhawks pulled Corey Crawford and put rookie Scott Darling in goal to start the second period. The Blackhawks stormed back, winning the game 4-3 in double overtime. Don’t expect a goaltending controversy in Chicago, though.
If the Nashville Predators are going to even up their series against the Chicago Blackhawks, they’re going to have to need short memories because otherwise this loss could stick with them for a while.
After Nashville took a 3-0 lead in the first period on two goals by Colin Wilson and one by Viktor Stalberg, Chicago dominated for long stretches of the second period, vanquished their three-goal deficit and headed into the third period with the score tied. And while Duncan Keith’s game-winning goal will go down as the shot that ultimately won the game in double overtime, it was the play of rookie goaltender Scott Darling that was truly the story.
Following the shaky start by Chicago's starting netminder Corey Crawford, it was Darling who took the net to begin the second frame. Over the course of the next four periods, he made 42 saves and took home his first career playoff victory. Among those saves were his stop-it-with-anything save on Mike Ribeiro and his unbelievable game-saving stop midway through the third period on Ryan Ellis.
It’s barely shocking, either, that Darling made noise in his first career playoff appearance. Earlier this campaign, he made his NHL debut after years of bouncing around the minor leagues. Eventually, he landed himself a new, two-year deal with the Blackhawks and took the backup role from second-year netminder Antti Raanta. Of rookie goaltenders who played at least 10 games, Darling’s .936 save percentage was the highest in the league and his 1.94 goals-against average was second to only Raanta, who qualifies as a rookie even though he’s in his second season in Chicago.
Don’t believe for a second there’s a budding goaltending controversy in the Windy City, though.
Talk will be whether or not Chicago should go back to Darling for Game 2, but there shouldn’t be much doubt in Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville’s trust in Crawford. Down the stretch, though the team was losing games or being outplayed, Crawford was one of the lone bright spots. One game won’t break him. Though Darling was more outstanding than anyone could have asked of him, it’s unlikely Crawford will be watching from the bench Friday night.
And as impressive as Darling’s playoff debut was the way the Blackhawks rallied in the second period and took it to the Predators. After falling behind by such a wide margin, not only did Chicago come out flying in the second frame, they did so to the tune of a 19 to seven shot attempt advantage at 5-on-5 in the period. The incredible pressure resulted in three consecutive power plays in the final 13 minutes of the frame, which in turn led to extra man tallies by Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews.
While the game story could have been what-ifs for the Blackhawks – like if Antoine Vermette had been dressed for the contest or Chicago stayed with Crawford – a collective effort from an experienced playoff team was enough to pull Chicago from what easily could have been a Game 1 loss to a 1-0 series lead. And, as they say, the road team usually hopes to simply split the first two games of the series. The Blackhawks have now done that, regardless of the outcome Friday.
Say what you will for the impact experience has on a team when it comes to the playoffs, it seemed as though the Blackhawks played the second period without an ounce of panic. Be it the calming influence of Quenneville or the knowledge gained from having been in the situation before, Chicago didn’t look like a team fighting for their lives or playing desperate hockey, they looked like the dominant club many had predicted them to be this post-season.
As for the returning Patrick Kane, he played limited ice time in his return but found the score sheet with two power play assists in nearly six minutes with the extra man. At 5-on-5, he played less than Toews, Brandon Saad, Marian Hossa and Brad Richards, and his ice time was more in line with the likes of Kris Versteeg and Bryan Bickell. At times, it appeared he had some difficulty handling the puck properly, but it's difficult to tell whether it was anything more than rust.
That Chicago was able to complete the comeback in a game where, at even-strength, Kane was largely unnoticeable speaks volumes for the team. And if there are many more periods like those that followed the first frame in Nashville tonight, it might be a short run for the Predators.