Scott Darling ‘rock solid’ as Blackhawks take 2-1 series lead

SHARE Scott Darling ‘rock solid’ as Blackhawks take 2-1 series lead
SHARE Scott Darling ‘rock solid’ as Blackhawks take 2-1 series lead

All the talk entering Game 3 was about the goaltender situation, and for good reason. It’s not every spring that a Stanley Cup-winning goaltender gets benched for a 26-year-old rookie.

But lost in the controversy and the craziness surrounding the Blackhawks’ Game 2 loss was the fact that goaltending was hardly their biggest problem. At least, it wasn’t their only one. There are 18 other guys on the ice over the course of the game.

And on Sunday, they pretty much all showed up.

The Hawks got their first total team effort Sunday in a 4-2 victory over the Nashville Predators, taking a 2-1 series lead. Scott Darling made 35 saves and likely earned himself another start ahead of Corey Crawford in Tuesday’s Game 4, but most encouraging was how the Hawks, from top to bottom, outplayed the depleted Predators, who sorely missed the defensive presence of injured stars Shea Weber and Mike Fisher.

The top trio of Brandon Saad, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa was a force, combining for two goals and three assists. The new-look fourth line of Andrew Desjardins, Marcus Kruger and Andrew Shaw wreaked havoc, with Desjardins potting a goal and helping to create another. The forecheck was aggressive and effective, the back pressure was relentless and disruptive.

And while the Hawks goalies have garnered most of the attention, it’s Nashville’s all-world Pekka Rinne (26 saves) who is looking uncomfortable and underwhelming in net.

“It was a huge team effort,” Darling said. “They hardly had any Grade-A scoring opportunities. The D-corps played unbelievable, and I can’t thank them enough.”

With and without the puck, the Hawks looked little like the team that foundered in a 6-2 Game 2 loss in Nashville. And if it seems like they play better in front of Darling, perhaps smarter and more protective, they insist it’s only a coincidence, and something they’d very much like to remedy.

“We try to play the same way,” said Hossa, who had two assists and nearly had a few goals in a vintage performance. “Obviously, we weren’t good enough in front of the Crow, and we knew it. We didn’t help him out, and I think we learned from that.”

The Hawks, who never led in either of the first two games, twice took the lead in this one, only to give it right back. Desjardins, in for Joakim Nordstrom (Antoine Vermette replaced Teuvo Teravainen), scored at 14:48 of the first period, using Roman Josi as a screen after Josi blocked his initial shot. But Mike Ribeiro tied it up 31 seconds later.

And after Toews scored off a Hossa drop pass 36 seconds into the second period, Mattias Ekholm answered 22 seconds later. But Saad stole the puck at his own blue line and raced in for a wrist shot that beat Rinne at 3:38, and this time, the Hawks never let up. Brent Seabrook scored after a tremendous shift by the Desjardins line at 12:41 of the second, and the Hawks — and Darling —locked it down from there to improve to 26-0-0 when leading after two.

Darling looked shaky for a stretch in the second period, struggling with rebound control, but recovered nicely, with 24 straight saves to close out the win. Joel Quenneville was non-committal about his Game 4 goaltender, but called Darling “rock solid” and said “he did everything he could to put himself back in the net.”

No matter who it is on Tuesday, the Hawks know how they have to play in front of him.

“Usually when you have games like [Game 2], they always seem to focus on the goalies more, they’re more noticeable,” Saad said. “But as a team we had to play better, and we did.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus

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