Joel Quenneville has seen Scott Darling bounce back before. Now he’s going to find out if the rookie can do it when it matters most.
Darling will make his fourth consecutive start Saturday night in Game 6 against the Nashville Predators, as the Blackhawks again try to close out their first-round series following Thursday night’s 5-2 loss, in which Darling gave up three goals in less than three minutes early in the third period.
“He’s played some games when he didn’t win in the past, and he’s let up a bad goal in the past, as well,” Quenneville said. “You look at the four games, he’s let in one ordinary goal. Besides that, he’s consistently square — you’ve got to like his positioning and confidence. He’s done everything right.”
There really was no logical way to pick a goalie in this case, no obvious no-brainer course of action. It had to be a gut decision, a hunch, at best.
The argument for Darling was clear: He’s the biggest reason the Hawks have a 3-2 series lead. And while he overcommitted and didn’t get across the crease in time to prevent James Neal’s wraparound goal, the three bad minutes that cost the Hawks Game 5 in Nashville were hardly all his fault, not by a long shot, as both Quenneville and Patrick Kane made clear. Much like Crawford in Games 1 and 2, when he gave up nine goals in four periods of play, Darling didn’t get a whole lot of help during that stretch.
The argument for Corey Crawford was pretty obvious, too. For one, he’s a Stanley Cup-winning goaltender with a proven track record and the experience of closing out six playoff series in the previous two springs. If Quenneville had been waiting for an opportunity to put Crawford back in the net and hope he regained his mojo, this was his best chance — a home game, with a one-game cushion.
If the Hawks win Game 6, of course, all is well. But what if Darling struggles and the Hawks lose? Do you throw Crawford in for a Game 7, on the road, when he hasn’t played in a week and a half? Or do you stick with the rookie goalie, on the road, when he’s lost two straight?
“He’s playing tomorrow,” Quenneville said of Darling “We’re only thinking about tomorrow’s game. We have to play tomorrow’s game like we have to win tomorrow’s game. That’s what we’re all about.”
So the net remains Darling’s. And if he does win in Game 6, it’s unlikely he’ll be giving it back to Crawford when the second round begins. That’s no surprise to the players in front of him. And no problem for them, either.
“[Quenneville] kind of runs with the hot goalie,” Bryan Bickell said. “It shows our depth at that position and the confidence that we have in both goalies. It was nice to see Darling come in and play as well as he has. But also, I feel for Corey. Hopefully, he gets back in there and shows what he can do and what he’s really all about. He’s been our goalie all year, and I know he’s been positive and keeping high hopes that one day he’s going to get that call to get back in. Whoever’s in the net, we’re confident. We don’t change our game. We just need to play simple and not give up too many chances.”
Quenneville lets goaltending coach Jimmy Waite handle most of the communication with the goaltenders, and believes both of them are ready to go, if need be. But for now, it’s Darling’s net, and it’s up to the rookie to prove the coach’s gut feeling right.
“Jimmy’s got a good rapport with both our goalies,” Quenneville said. “And he feels comfortable and confident Scott’s going to get the job done.”