Goalie switch sparks Blackhawks to double-OT win in Game 1


Goalie switch sparks Blackhawks to double-OT win in Game 1

NASHVILLE — When Scott Darling got the call on Wednesday night, the emotions he felt were understandable.

“A lot of nerves, excitement,” he said. “Very similar to my first game.”

Sure, but Darling saw his first game coming. He was told about that one in advance, not during first intermission. That was also a regular-season game, not Game 1 of the Blackawks’ first-round series against the Nashville Predators. But Darling handled it as he has everything else this season, with incredible cool and even bigger saves.

And thanks to him, the Blackhawks turned what could have been an ugly loss into an improbable victory.

[WATCH BLACKHAWKS: Blackhawks erase three-goal deficit in second period]

Darling stopped 42 shots in relief after Corey Crawford was pulled following the first period, and Duncan Keith scored the winner 7:49 into the second overtime as the Blackhawks beat the Predators, 4-3, on Wednesday night at Bridgestone Arena. The Blackawks and Predators play Game 2 here on Friday night.

Patrick Kane recorded two assists on power-play goals from Patrick Sharp (5-on-3) and Jonathan Toews in his first game back from the fractured clavicle he sustained on Feb. 24. Niklas Hjalmarsson also scored for the Blackhawks.

It was a dramatic victory for the Blackhawks, who were down 3-0 at the end of the first period, prompting coach Joel Quenneville to pull Crawford, who gave up all the goals on the Predators’ first 12 shots, and install Darling. Even with the deficit it was a surprising move. Crawford was strong down the stretch, especially in the first few games Kane was sidelined with his injury. So how difficult is the decision on who to start in Game 2?

“The decision will be easy,” Quenneville said, who will announce the starter on Tuesday.

[WATCH BLACKHAWKS: Kane: 'I thought Darling was excellent']

Asked if he pulled Crawford because the goals were on him or if it was to spark the team, Quenneville said, “I didn’t like our first period, I didn’t like the goals, so I guess it would be both.”

It was a lousy first. Colin Wilson scored twice, dancing around Michal Rozsival on the first goal and then redirecting Sean Jones’ shot on a power play. Viktor Stalberg scored an empty-net goal when Crawford got caught trying to play the puck behind the net.

While Quenneville’s “easy” decision still has us wondering, Darling’s left little doubt that he can handle pressure at any time. He only saw four shots in the second period, when the Blackhawks erased that 3-0 deficit via Hjalmarsson, Sharp and Toews. The Blackhawks said they weren’t shouting angry words during first intermission, but they showed their displeasure by turning their game around in the second.

“There was a lot of reason to be angry: Game 1 of the playoffs and we’re down 3-0 pretty quick,” Sharp said. “So it’s a character win.”

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Tied 3-3 entering the third, Darling did his part in a big way. He had stellar stops in that period, as well as the overtimes.

“The guys played great in front of me. They didn’t help Crow very much, but they turned it around and made my life easy,” said Darling, who added the low-shot second was a good thing. “It’s pretty ideal to get eased into it like that.”

Then Keith ended it when his blue-line shot beat Pekka Rinne less than eight minutes into the second overtime. The Blackhawks were not happy at all with the start; nothing good came out of those first 20 minutes. But they’ll take the end.

“Obviously it wasn’t the start we wanted,” Keith said. “It showed a lot of character to make that comeback, but big saves from Darling made the difference and allowed us to come back.”

The pros and cons of reuniting Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on Blackhawks top line


The pros and cons of reuniting Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on Blackhawks top line

Jonathan Toews' offense usually comes in spurts. We're seeing it again right now.

But it's no coincidence his numbers have spiked since Patrick Kane joined him on the top line.

After recording another two points in Saturday's 5-3 loss to the Buffalo Sabres, the Blackhawks captain has 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in his past eight games; he had 11 points in his previous 23 games total.

Toews also reached the 20-goal mark for the 11th straight season, joining Kane and Alex Ovechkin as the only three active players to accomplish that feat to open their NHL careers.

Kane has seen his offensive production pick up, too. He has 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) in his past 13 games after going five straight without one, which was his longest point drought of the season.

When the two of them are on the ice together at even strength, they control 57.9 percent of the shot attempts. It hasn't quite translated on the scoresheet (14 goals for and 17 goals against) maybe the way it should, but they are certainly spending far more time in the offensive zone than the defensive end and are generating a high volume of shots.

So yes, reuniting the dynamic duo has worked stats-wise.

But it comes at a cost:

— Vinnie Hinostroza and Nick Schmaltz haven't scored in six straight contests.

— Alex DeBrincat's season-long goal drought is up to 13 games.

— Artem Anisimov's last even-strength goal came nine games ago.

When you put Kane and Toews together, you risk losing some balance across the lineup and that's why Joel Quenneville has always been reluctant to go to that nuclear option. He prefers when opposing teams are forced to play 'Pick Your Poison.'

Ideally, you'd like to spread out the scoring, but one thing is for certain: The Blackhawks are better when Kane and Toews are each producing offensively, whether they're apart or together. 

When the wins start to dry up though — and they have — that's normally when it's time to try something different.

Perhaps more importantly, the last thing you want are those scoring droughts mentioned above to stretch even further and get inside the younger skaters' heads, then carrying it with them into the offseason.

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Has the championship window closed?


Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Has the championship window closed?

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Jonathan Toews sits down with Pat Boyle for a 1-on-1 interview. Toews weighs in on his season with Brandon Saad, whether he expects major changes this offseason and has the championship window closed?

Also, Adam Burish joins the podcast and plays the game: “Building block, not sure, or no thanks.” Burish runs down the Blackhawks forwards and predicts whether or not they have a future with the team.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: