Blackhawks

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

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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.”

[SHOP BLACKHAWKS: Get your Blackhawks gear right here]

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.”

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

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AP

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

The Blackhawks have said all along that they don't plan on carrying three goaltenders, but wanted to do so during the three games in four days stretch just in case, with Corey Crawford coming back from a 10-month layoff because of a concussion.

After being encouraged by how Crawford has responded to his return, the Blackhawks placed goaltender Anton Forsberg on waivers Monday morning. Teams have 24 hours to put in a claim for the 25-year-old goaltender and would have to keep him on their NHL roster for 10 games and/or 30 days before he's eligible to go through the waiver process again.

His chances of getting claimed by any of the other 30 teams essentially depends on which teams believe Forsberg would be an immediate upgrade over their current backup — or starter, for that matter — or whether there's an injury to one of the team's two goaltenders that requires a placeholder, like we saw the Carolina Hurricanes do by claiming Curtis McElhinney from the Toronto Maple Leafs after Scott Darling's injury in the preseason.

If Forsberg goes unclaimed, the Blackhawks can assign him to the American Hockey League with the Rockford IceHogs. With Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen sharing the goaltending duties in Rockford, it's possible Lankinen gets sent to the Indy Fuel in the East Coast Hockey League to get consistent starts under his belt.

A third option, one that isn't very common but we've seen in the past as recently as last October with Maple Leafs goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo, is that Forsberg can be loaned to any AHL team while still being a part of the Blackhawks organization. This would allow the Blackhawks to keep Delia and Lankinen in Rockford while Forsberg gets his starts in the AHL, too.

Or, the Blackhawks could simply trade Forsberg to another NHL team that could stash him in the AHL, as long as he clears waivers. They did it last season with Chris DiDomenico, who cleared waivers as a member of the Ottawa Senators but was then traded to Chicago for Ville Pokka days later. Had DiDomenico been claimed by the Blackhawks, he would have had to stay on the NHL roster as noted above.

Forsberg was 10-16-4 with a 2.97 goals against average and .908 save percentage in 35 appearances last season but has not appeared in a game yet this year. He was acquired as part of the Brandon Saad package for Artemi Panarin in June 2017.

Blackhawks looking for defensive improvement from everyone, not just defensemen

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks looking for defensive improvement from everyone, not just defensemen

The Blackhawks were able to get away with their defensive lapses in the past solely because of Corey Crawford. When he went down with a concussion last December, those issues were magnified because he wasn't there to mask the flaws.

But it's reached the point where they can't rely on their goaltender to bail them out on a nightly basis, which is becoming another trend. Cam Ward allowed six goals to Tampa Bay on Sunday night, but made 49 saves — including 30 in the second period alone. He did everything he could to keep his team withing some sort of reaching distance and without his timely stops, the scoreboard could've looked much worse for the Blackhawks.

Something's got to change. 

When the Blackhawks talk about tightening things up defensively, they're not just putting it all on the defensemen. All five guys on the ice need to do their part and they're not doing it right now.

"I think we're trying to do too much and running around trying to do each other's job," Jonathan Toews said. "Sometimes we just need to simply and finish our checks and support each other."

No team has given up more even-strength high-danger chances through eight games than the Blackhawks at 110. That's 15.77 per 60 minutes. For reference, the New York Islanders finished worst in the league in that category last season and their number was at 12.96.

It didn't help that the Blackhawks spent nearly the entire second period in their own end on Sunday.

"We just couldn’t get it out of our zone, couldn’t get our stick on it, didn’t see pressure, didn’t feel pressure when we had it, were stripped," coach Joel Quenneville said. "Hence, we didn’t advance it. Kept looking like we were going up the ice and there were going to be some odd-man situations and then we’re the ones who were facing it."

That's one way to eliminate those high quality scoring chances, is getting the puck out of their own zone effectively or else it opens the door for Grade-A opportunities because of self-inflicted wounds. And it usually happens at the end of shifts when guys are tired, which often leads to goals.

"We have to learn how to play without the puck better and learn how to keep it," Quenneville said. "Whether it was our execution going up the ice, first pass poor and then we couldn’t change. A lot of things that happened yesterday were there tonight."

The Blackhawks weren't using three games in four nights as an excuse because Tampa Bay was in the same situation. It was an even playing field in that respect.

It's all about execution from everyone involved, forwards and defensemen. And the Blackhawks feel they're correctable issues.

"Of course," Toews said. "We've had some good periods this season so far. The first three, four, five games, everyone was excited and you guys are all talking to us much differently than you are right now. It's just getting back to playing that smart defensive game and playing with effort and letting our offense do the work. We know what's got to improve. It's right there in front of us."