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.”

Golden Knights All-Star Max Pacioretty expected to return for Game 1 vs. Blackhawks

Golden Knights All-Star Max Pacioretty expected to return for Game 1 vs. Blackhawks

The Vegas Golden Knights are expected to get a major boost going into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

After suffering a minor injury during Phase 3 of formal training camps that forced him to miss all three round-robin games, Max Pacioretty is "in the bubble" of Edmonton and should be ready to go for Game 1 of the first round against the Blackhawks. He completed his mandatory quarantine and will practice with the team on Monday, head coach Pete DeBoer said.

A six-time 30-goal scorer, Pacioretty led the Golden Knights in the regular season with 32 goals and 66 points. He participated in the NHL All-Star Game in January for the first time in his career and was the lone representative for Vegas.

Expect Pacioretty to play on the first line with Mark Stone. When the two of them were on the ice together at even strength this season, the Golden Knights controlled 60.6 percent of the shot attempts, 64.8 percent of the scoring chances and had a goal differential of plus-18, according to Natural Stat Trick.

The Golden Knights were already a deep team. And they just got even more dangerous with the return of Pacioretty.

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Why Blackhawks are in for 'big test' against Vegas in Stanley Cup Playoffs

Why Blackhawks are in for 'big test' against Vegas in Stanley Cup Playoffs

The Blackhawks had their work cut out for them in the qualifying round against the Edmonton Oilers. It was all about containing the two best players in the world in Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid, both of whom weren’t as much of a factor at even strength as we’re used to seeing in a competitive series that lasted four games.

But the Blackhawks are about to face a different beast in the Vegas Golden Knights, who locked up the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. The two teams will square off in a best-of-seven series in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Blackhawks watched the Golden Knights’ round-robin finale on Saturday from their suite at Rogers Place, getting an up-close look at their next opponent. And they know they're in for a challenge.

"They're a good team," Kirby Dach said. "They're deep up front, they have good defense, obviously great goaltending. They play the game fast, they're smart, they're a disciplined team. We just know we're going to have to keep elevating our game to compete and hopefully win the series, but we have a long way to go. It's going to be a battle. We've got to be ready each and every night because we know they're going to bring it."

The Golden Knights went 3-0 in round-robin play, beating the No. 1 offensive team (Colorado) and No. 1 defensive team (Dallas) in the West, and defending Stanley Cup champions (St. Louis) by a combined score of 15-10. And they didn't even look their best.

But when they are at their best, the Golden Knights are seemingly unbeatable.

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The Golden Knights ranked No. 1 this season in even-strength shot attempts from the slot for (25.4 per game) and even-strength shots on net from the slot (15.1), according to Sportlogiq. They also ranked No. 1 in even-strength shot attempts from the slot against (18.8).

The Golden Knights are just as good of an offensive team than they are defensively at even strength and can come at you in waves.

"They seem to use all four lines a little more than Edmonton did," Connor Murphy said. "Edmonton had their top two or three forwards that carried a lot of the offense and played a lot of minutes and seemed to have a lot of possession in their hands. It'll be definitely different defending against that team game and that simple pressure and speed that they have. They play that playoff-style game as well. That'll be something that we look at these next couple days, and either adjust or roll with."

To cap it off, the Golden Knights have arguably the best goaltending duo in the playoffs with Marc-Andre Fleury and former Chicago netminder Robin Lehner. It remains unclear who will start Game 1, but there might not be a wrong choice.

Put it all together and you have a Golden Knights team that doesn't have many holes on their roster.

"They’re an excellent team," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "Very good defensively, stingy defensively, but they’ve created a lot going the other way, too. We know we’re going to have to raise our level. It’s going to be a big challenge, but we’re excited about it."