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.”