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.
A quick look at what games will be on what channels in today’s Stanley Cup playoff action…
Capitals at Islanders, 12 p.m. ET on NBC
Goaltender Braden Holtby is expected to get the startt after missing Game 2 due to an illness. The Capitals will look to build on a 4-3 win on Friday night and take their first lead of the series this afternoon. The Islanders will once again be without defenseman Travis Hamonic due to an undisclosed injury. Doc Emrick, Eddie Olczyk and Pierre McGuire have the call.
Predators at Blackhawks, 3 p.m. ET on NBC
The Blackhawks will also have a different Game 3 starter when their series with the Predators moves to Chicago’s Untied Center this afternoon. Head coach Joel Quenneville announced Scott Darling will make his first career Stanley Cup playoff start today. Darling made 42 saves in relief of Corey Crawford in Game 1. Meanwhile the Preds will be without captain Shea Weber for both Games 3 and 4 due to a lower body injury. Weber left Game 2 midway through the second period and did not return. Kenny Albert, Brian Engblom and Joe Micheletti will be on the call.
Canadiens at Senators, 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN
The Senators have questions in goal heading into Game 3 tonight in Ottawa. After a nearly perfect 20-1-2 record and 1.79 G.A.A. in the final months of the regular season, Andrew Hammond has lost the first two games of the series with Montreal and there’s some thought head coach Dave Cameron may go with veteran Craig Anderson in goal tonight. The 33-year-old had a 1.80 G.A.A. in the Sens 4-1 series win over the Habs during the 2013 playoffs. Chris Cuthbert and Bret Hedican have the call tonight.
Canucks at Flames, 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN
Friday night’s Game 2 featured six fighting majors, seven game misconducts and three 10-minute misconducts – much of which occurred in the final two minutes of the Canucks 4-1 win over the Flames. Calgary’s head coach Bob Hartley was fined $50,000 as a result of the melee. The series now moves to Calgary where the Flames will host a playoff game for the first time since losing in Game 6 of the first round in 2009. Jim Hughson, Craig Simpson and Scott Oake have the call of Game 3.
Scott Darling will get the start for the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 3 on Sunday.
Darling made 42 saves in relief of Corey Crawford in the Blackhawks 4-3 double-overtime win in Game 1 on Wednesday.
Sunday will mark Darling’s first career Stanley Cup playoff start.
The 26-year-old was 9-4-0 while posting a 1.94 G.A.A. and a .936 save percentage in 14 regular season appearances.
If Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville knows which goalie he’s going to start for Game 3 against the Nashville Predators after another rough outing for Corey Crawford, he’s not telling.
For now, he’s just saying “we’ll see.”
Looking at recent history alone, it would seem to point in Scott Darling’s favor. While Crawford has the Stanley Cup on his resume, Darling was perfect in relief in Game 1 while Crawford’s been … not.
It’s not just these past two games against the Predators (in which he’s allowed nine goals in four periods), either. As Liam McHugh notes, Crawford has allowed 3+ goals in his last eight postseason starts:
The Blackhawks might be a little lucky in some ways to head back to Chicago with their series tied 1-1 against Nashville, but there’s only so much that can sugarcoat a 6-2 loss.
Whether he goes with Crawford or Darling, it would be surprising if Quenneville deems the decision as “easy” as his choice was for Game 2, though. (As Keith Jones said, it’s a “brainer.”)
So much for the Game 2 being about the officials.
For much of tonight’s contest between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Nashville Predators, it seemed like some controversial calls may loom large. Instead, the Predators outright bombarded the Blackhawks in the third period, ultimately winning 6-2.
Now the story is about Joel Quenneville starting Corey Crawford instead of Scott Darling, even if perhaps the focus should be on Nashville taking it to the established team from Chicago.
Nashville never trailed in Game 2. It seemed like it would be a nail-biter for a while … until that third period. The game went from a thriller to a blowout during an incredible finish by Nashville:
The series is now 1-1 as it shifts back to the United Center in Chicago.
Both teams have questions. Shea Weber left the game with a lower-body injury and did not return. The Blackhawks got blown out of the arena and face a goalie conundrum. They may also mull over some lineup tweaks, including the possible return of trade deadline find Antoine Vermette.
Either way, the Blackhawks and Predators look like they’ll put together the kind of series you’d expect from the excellent Central Division.