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.”

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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.”

NHL trade market starting to crystallize for Blackhawks ahead of deadline

NHL trade market starting to crystallize for Blackhawks ahead of deadline

The New Jersey Devils swung two deals over the weekend, trading veteran defenseman Andy Greene to the New York Islanders for defenseman prospect David Quenneville and a second-round draft pick in 2021, and Blake Coleman to the Tampa Bay Lightning for forward prospect Nolan Foote and a first-round pick in 2020 that originally belonged to the Vancouver Canucks. A solid haul for a Devils team looking to stockpile future assets.

On Monday, the Canucks acquired coveted winger Tyler Toffoli from the Los Angeles Kings for forward Tim Schaller, the rights to forward prospect Tyler Madden, a second-round pick in 2020 and a conditional pick in 2022. It was a surprising move at the time, but more clarity was provided after it was revealed that star winger Brock Boeser could miss the rest of the season with an upper-body injury.

Things ramped up big-time on Tuesday:

— The Winnipeg Jets acquired depth defenseman Dylan DeMelo from the Ottawa Senators for a 2020 third-round pick.

— The Washington Capitals landed top-four defenseman Brenden Dillon from the San Jose Sharks for a 2020 second-round pick and 2021 conditional third-round pick. The Sharks retained 50 percent of Dillon’s $3.27 million cap hit.

— The St. Louis Blues acquired depth defenseman Marco Scandella from the Montreal Canadiens for a 2020 second-round pick and 2021 conditional fourth-round pick. The Canadiens retained 50 percent of Scandella’s $4 million cap hit.

— The Vegas Golden Knights are reportedly finalizing a trade with the Kings for two-time Stanley Cup champion defenseman Alec Martinez that could involve two second-round picks going to Los Angeles. It’s worth noting Martinez has one year left on his contract after this season that carries a $4 million cap hit. The deal may not be announced until Wednesday.

The three defensemen moved were pending unrestricted free agents, which gives Blackhawks a better feel of what they could get in return for Erik Gustafsson.

The activity is likely far from over in the Western Conference.

The Colorado Avalanche are one of the favorites to come out of the West but have been decimated by injuries to key pieces as of late.

Top-six center Nazem Kadri (leg) is expected to be out until mid-to-late March. Versatile winger Matt Calvert (oblique strain) will miss multiple weeks. Starting goaltender Philipp Grubauer’s (lower-body injury) timeline is still up in the air. And two-time 80-plus point-getter Mikko Rantanen reportedly broke his collarbone on Monday and could be sidelined for six to eight weeks, which could end his regular season.

The Avalanche are projected to have $26.9 million in cap space going into the trade deadline, so money is clearly not an issue. Their prospect pool is also loaded, highlighted by defenseman Bowen Byram and forward Alex Newhook, both of whom were taken in the first round of the 2019 NHL Draft at No. 4 and No. 16, respectively. The Avalanche still own their first-round pick in 2020, too.

If the Blackhawks declare themselves sellers, they could be an attractive trade partner for a team like Colorado, who isn’t looking to take on longer-term contracts that would interfere with extensions for Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar down the road.

RELATED: Blackhawks look to right the ship before it's too late

For one, the Blackhawks have two No. 1 goaltenders in Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner, both of whom are set to become UFAs at the end of the season. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman wrote in his weekly 31 Thoughts column on Tuesday that he believes Colorado has checked in on Crawford, but it remains unclear how the Blackhawks will handle their goaltending situation.

Brandon Saad won’t necessarily be on the trade block with one year left on his contract after this season, but would the Blackhawks consider attaching him with one of their goaltenders to sweeten their own return? The Blackhawks will certainly have options.

"I've been doing it long enough where you get some really interesting ideas as you get closer to the deadline," GM Stan Bowman told NBC Sports Chicago on Feb. 7. "General managers tend to be more open-minded at that time of year of things you never thought that people would propose. I'm not expecting anything. I'm just going to let it play out the way it does and we'll take it as it comes."

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Blackhawks experiment with power play that ranks dead last in NHL

Blackhawks experiment with power play that ranks dead last in NHL

The power play has been a struggle all season long for the Blackhawks, who slipped to dead last in the NHL with a 14.0 percent success rate after going 0-for-14 with the man advantage on their five-game road trip.

It's not the primary reason the Blackhawks are outside of the playoff picture but it's certainly one of the main reasons they picked up only two out of a possible 10 points in Western Canada. Their two best power play performances were in Edmonton and Vancouver, where they generated a combined 16 scoring chances and six high-danger chances on their eight opportunities.

Back at practice in Chicago on Tuesday, the Blackhawks experimented with some different looks. 

Patrick Kane, Dominik Kubalik, Brandon Saad, Jonathan Toews and Erik Gustafsson made up the first unit in a 1-3-1 setup, which has been the structure all season. The second unit, however, was in a box-and-one-type setup with Adam Boqvist and Duncan Keith running the point, Kirby Dach in front of the net, and Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome at the faceoff circles.

"It's a little bit different," DeBrincat said. "We're just playing to our strengths. For us, we're trying to move it along the outside and converge the net. We have two D on [our unit], so for them, it's controlling the blue line and getting pucks on net. The other one is a little bit more of a traditional look, but I think both could be deadly and hopefully that happens."

The Blackhawks spent a majority of practice working on the power play. And rightfully so. Production at 5-on-5 hasn't been an issue; They rank thirteenth with 122 goals. But on the power play, they have scored only 25 times after tucking in 48 last season.

"Just trying to get the reps," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "Nothing really new, though. It's just more like getting confidence, and having, for the players, a chance to go through some options and have conversations under pressure."

With the penalty kill performing at a top-10 level this season, a hot power play could be the difference between making a final playoff push and not for the Blackhawks.

"The power play has been something that hasn't been clicking this year," Kane said. "That's something we're trying to improve on and get better at. ... I think it's been pretty good lately. Right now it's just a matter of getting a bounce here or there, and getting some confidence off that."

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Blackhawks games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.