Quenneville does the right thing and names Darling the Game 3 starter

SHARE Quenneville does the right thing and names Darling the Game 3 starter

Joel Quenneville and the Blackhawks have gotten the benefit of the doubt in most situations the past six seasons. It comes with having a coach and a core of players who have won two Stanley Cups.

When the playoffs roll around, knee-jerk change is for other teams, not the steady, experienced Hawks, no matter how dire the circumstance. But no more.

Quenneville announced Saturday that rookie Scott Darling would replace a shaky Corey Crawford in net Sunday for Game 3 of the Hawks’ first-round series against Nashville. As it should be.

“Scotty is coming off a spectacular outing,’’ he said. “It think his play is deserving of getting the start here at home.’’

This isn’t a crisis of faith in Crawford for the Hawks. This is a moment of opportunity. It might end up being one of those seminal moments in franchise history, the story of a rags-to-riches goalie from Lemont saving the day and week and month(s).

Or it could end up being nothing in a nothing season.

But it’s time.

It’s time for a change. More importantly, it’s time for a spark in a bone-dry forest. Crawford is not the Blackhawks’ biggest problem in their series with the Predators, but it’s very possible that Darling is the biggest solution. That’s a difficult thing to write. It has a whiff of panic to it, and that’s not what the Hawks are about. This a team that hits bumps, shrugs and bounces back. We’ve seen it over and over again.

But there’s something missing in this series, even if the series is only two games old. That’s not Crawford’s fault, though he wasn’t at all sharp Friday night in a 6-2 loss to the Predators. In four periods of work, he has given up nine goals on 47 shots. Those numbers speak the truth, with a sneer.

This is a sport of feel and hunches and momentum, and none of it is in the Hawks’ favor in a series that is tied 1-1.

It’s time.

There have been few bigger supporters of Crawford than me, especially during his darker times. Fans too often have mistaken his Michelin Man padding for a punching bag. But this change is as much about the people in front of him as it is the goalie. Defensemen and forwards did a poor job of supporting him the first two games.

Darling was brilliant in relief of Crawford in Game 1, stopping all 42 shots he faced after starting the second period. For whatever reason, his teammates played much better for him than they did for Crawford. Shame on them for that.

In hockey, you don’t ask why. You just switch. And that’s what Quenneville is doing, hoping to change the direction of this series. It’s tied, but why does it feel the Hawks are down 0-2?

His decision doesn’t necessarily mean he’s done with Crawford for the playoffs. If it were the other way around, with the rookie being demoted after two below-par performances, going back to him later in the series might be impossible. Crushed confidence would be a real concern.

The Hawks can worry later about what this might do to Crawford’s mental state. But he has been around long enough that you figure he’ll be fine. They have bigger problems now, such as how to win a series.

A 6-foot-6 man who does the splits was born to be either a goalie or a bridge over a river. Quenneville likes the story of the lanky local kid who bounced around the minor leagues until finding a home with the Hawks this season. And Darling has fed off that.

“Just the confidence he has shown in me has been big for my confidence – just the fact that he’s willing to play me in the regular season in important games and the fact that he felt comfortable to put me in (Game 1),’’ he said. “He builds my confidence by the confidence he shows in me.’’

The Predators lost Mike Fisher in Game 1 and Shea Weber in Game 2, both to injury, yet the team from the north couldn’t take advantage of their absence Friday night. Actually, that last sentence gives the Hawks too much credit. The Hawks watched the opportunity pass them by. Better.

They need to pick it up. A pick-me-up might help get them started Sunday at the United Center. Sometimes a change can do wonders.

Darling said Quenneville is “the kind of coach you’d go through a wall for.’’

Forget that. With the way his teammates are playing, Darling needs to be that wall.

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