Goaltender Corey Crawford has led the Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup championship, but when Chicago attempts to eliminate Nashville on Thursday, he won’t be playing between the pipes. Rookie Scott Darling has been a big part of the first round series and will get another start in Game 5.
It’s an impressive, yet oddly common story this season. If you look at the GAA leaders so far in the 2015 postseason, you won’t see Carey Price or Henrik Lundqvist listed in the top-three. Instead it’s Darling, Devan Dubnyk, and Jake Allen. Three netminders who weren’t in starting roles when the campaign began. Then there’s Petr Mrazek, who shutout the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday to give Detroit a 2-1 series lead.
“It might be the year of the backup goalie this year,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville told CSN Chicago. “Somebody you’ve never heard of may get an opportunity and all of a sudden is a key guy. We all know the importance of the goalie and how the guy who is playing well is getting that net. Sometimes it’s competitive with internal competition but at the same time the rapport is excellent [with the normal starter] and it’s a healthy situation to be in.”
The question is if this trend will continue. Dubnyk really can’t be regarded as a backup anymore and that’s been true since Minnesota acquired him, but if Darling, Allen, or Mrazek falter, then their respective teams might not wait long to replace them.
We’ve already seen Ottawa’s Andrew Hammond be relegated to warming the bench despite his tremendous regular season run and Vancouver’s Eddie Lack was yanked early in Tuesday’s contest. Even still, at this point it’s entirely possible that the goaltender who leads his team to a Stanley Cup championship will be one that didn’t hold the starting job at the beginning of the season.
A quick look at what games will be on what channels in tonight’s Stanley Cup playoff action…
Lightning at Red Wings, 7:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN
The Tampa Bay Lightning will look to continue their strong play in the series as it shifts to Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena. The Bolts have out-shot the Wings by a combined 76-38 margin through two games, but have just the one win after Detroit was able to squeeze out a 3-2 victory in Game 1. John Forslund and Andy Brickley have the call of Game 3.
Capitals at Islanders, 7:30 p.m. ET on USA
The Washington Capitals are hoping captain Alex Ovechkin can break out of his slump as they look to even the series at two. Ovechkin was held off the score sheet for the second time in three games in Sunday’s 2-1 overtime loss to the Islanders. Ovechkin has just one goal on a team-high 15 shots in the series after scoring a league-high 53 goals during the regular season. Kenny Albert and Pierre McGuire will call Game 4.
Predators at Blackhawks, 9:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN
Scott Darling will make his second career playoff start tonight as the Blackhawks look to take a 3-1 stranglehold on their series with the Predators. Darling made 42 saves in relief of Corey Crawford in Game 1’s double overtime victory. He then stopped 35 shots in Sunday’s 4-2 win. Captain Jonathan Toews has five points in the two Chicago wins. Gord Miller and Joe Micheletti will have the call of Game 4.
Canucks at Flames, 10:00 p.m. ET on USA
The Calgary Flames are 5-0-2 on home ice since March 19 and they’ll look to ride that success at the Saddledome tonight as they attempt to take a commanding 3-1 series lead in their best-of-seven matchup with the Vancouver Canucks. Calgary has now taken four of the last five meetings with Vancouver dating back to the regular season while limiting the Canucks to just nine goals. Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin have combined for just one goal and an assist in those games. Chris Cuthbert and Bret Hedican have the call of Game 4 tonight.
Tough goalie decisions for Joel Quenneville this round?
The Chicago head coach, who said it was an “easy decision” to stick with Corey Crawford after a rough Game 1 outing against the Preds, is back at it again — only now it’s Scott Darling who’s the easy choice, especially after he stopped 35 shots in a 4-2 win on Sunday.
“It’s tough to make a change when you like everything about the game,” Quenneville said, per the Chicago Sun-Times. “He played so well. Very deserving.
“I think it was an easy choice.”
Darling, who made his first-ever Stanley Cup playoff start in Game 3, has been terrific this series, posting a 2-0-0 record with a .975 save percentage and 0.94 GAA. Quenneville’s raved about the 26-year-old, calling his 42-save effort in Game 1 “one of the greatest relief performances you’re going to see.”
As for Crawford… well, he’s clearly on the outside looking in after allowing nine goals on 47 shots over four periods of action against Nashville. The ‘Hawks don’t seem keen on another goalie switch, and certainly don’t sound as though they expect Darling to go south.
“He’s done an outstanding job, played well in [the United Center], played some big games on the road,” Quenneville said. “Doesn’t get rattled, doesn’t change his demeanor no matter what the situation is. He’s got a smile on his face, he’s happy to be here.
After Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford struggled against Nashville in the opening two games of the first round series, Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville decided it was time to give 26-year-old rookie netminder Scott Darling his first career playoff start.
The move paid off nicely for Chicago as Darling turned aside 35 of 37 shots in Chicago’s 4-2 victory this afternoon. Was that enough to earn him another start in Game 4 on Tuesday?
“We’ll talk about it, but certainly he did everything he could to put himself back in the net,” Quenneville said, per the Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus.
Certainly if you only look at their first round numbers, the choice seems obvious. Darling has a 0.94 GAA and .975 save percentage in two contests, including his relief appearance in Game 1. Crawford has a 6.75 GAA and .809 save percentage. And yet, Crawford is the one that got the Blackhawks into the playoffs in the first place. He’s the guy that posted a 1.84 GAA and .932 save percentage in 23 playoff games in 2013 to lead Chicago to a Stanley Cup championship. Should all he’s accomplished be dismissed after two bad games?
Perhaps. The playoffs aren’t about past results. They’re short series and who is hot and cold matters greatly, especially when it comes to netminders.
Regardless of Quenneville’s decision though, this was a great moment for Darling, who has had to work his way up after entering the campaign as the Blackhawks’ third-string goaltender.
Nashville earned a commanding 6-2 victory over Chicago on Friday to even the first round series at 1-1, but that was back when they were playing at the Bridgestone Arena. Throughout the season, the Predators have done significantly worse on the road and that trend continued with their 4-2 loss to Chicago this afternoon.
Which isn’t to suggest that the change in venue was the only factor in this game. Losing top-tier defenseman Shea Weber clearly hurt Nashville tonight. The fact that he’ll also be absent for Game 4 on Tuesday should be an area of substantial concern for the Predators. Part of the reason for that is goaltender Pekka Rinne’s shaky play as of late.
Early this season Rinne looked like a Vezina Trophy candidate, but as the campaign went on, Rinne declined substantially. He had a 2.48 GAA and .911 save percentage in 27 contests after the All-Star break and those struggles have carried into the playoffs. The Predators did make defensive mistakes which contributed to this loss, but it’s also true that Rinne wasn’t able to bail his defense out often enough tonight.
At the other end of the ice, Blackhawks goaltender Scott Darling did a great job in his first start of the playoffs. Given Corey Crawford’s 6.75 GAA and .809 save percentage in two games against Nashville, it would be interesting if coach Joel Quenneville decided to go back to his veteran netminder for Game 4.
Chicago’s Jonathan Toews also had a big game with a goal and an assist while Brandon Saad’s marker proved to be the winner.
The Blackhawks have a 2-1 series lead with with two of the last four contests scheduled to be played in Chicago.