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Blackhawks advance to second round on Duncan Keith’s winner

Shame is a pretty strong word for it. But for a hockey player, there’s nothing quite as gutting as watching your starting goaltender trudge off to the bench, pulled on the biggest stage, by no fault of his own — a desperation move by a coach who’s actually sending a message to the other 18 guys on the ice.

The Blackhawks experienced that twice in their first-round series against the Nashville Predators.

And both times, they responded.

Corey Crawford relieved his reliever, Scott Darling, in the first period, and the Hawks’ biggest names stepped up at the biggest time in a 4-3 victory over the Nashville Predators, wrapping up an excruciatingly tight six-game first-round series.

“It’s not fair to the goalie, the way we played in front of him,” Duncan Keith said, “Corey in the first [game], and then Darls tonight. We know we’ve got great goaltending. It’s not that. It’s more how we play in front of them. And I think we kind of pulled it together and realized, hey, that’s not acceptable.”

It’s the third straight season the Hawks have made it out of the first round, and their seventh series win in the last three springs. The Hawks will either host the Minnesota Wild or visit the St. Louis Blues in Game 1 of the second round. Minnesota leads that first-round series 3-2.

Keith scored with 3:48 to go in the game to cap the Hawks’ comeback in the game, and stop the Predators’ comeback in the series; the Hawks never have lost a series in which they’ve led 3-1. Keith had a goal and two assists, Jonathan Toews had a goal and two assists, Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane each had a goal and an assist, and Crawford made 13 saves in his first action since Game 2, taking back his No. 1 job, likely for good.

“Shows character, leadership,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “Our top guys were special tonight.”

The similarities between Game 1 and Game 6 were striking. Darling was pulled after giving up three goals on 12 shots, just like Crawford was in Game 1. Crawford came in and faced just four shots over the next 15 minutes as the Hawks defense tightened up in front of him, exactly as Darling did in Game 1. And awakened by the goalie switch, the Hawks rallied to tie it at 3-3, just as they did in Game 1.

And just like in Game 1, the Hawks won 4-3 on a Keith goal.

It wasn’t all Crawford’s fault in Game 1, and it wasn’t all Darling’s fault in Game 6. But the effect of the quick hook was the same — it worked.

“I don’t know why it’s that recipe for success to get down and then come back,” Kane said. “But it seemed to get us going a little bit.”

The Hawks were a disaster at the start of the game, poor defensively and sloppy offensively. James Neal went around Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya and flipped a little backhander past Darling just 70 seconds into the game. Seven minutes later, Neal tipped a Cody Franson shot past Darling on a power play to make it 2-0 Nashville. It was the Predators’ sixth power-play goal on just 21 chances in the series.

Sharp scored off a Keith rebound off the back boards to cut the lead to 2-1 at 10:37, but as they have all series long, the Predators answered quickly — Matt Cullen getting between Keith and Hjalmarsson and beating Darling with a nice wrist shot at 11:16.

“To tell you the truth, I think we have to do a better job defensively,” Marian Hossa said. “Because we don’t help our goalies much.”

That was all for Darling, as Crawford — vilified after giving up nine goals in four periods in the first two games — came in to rousing cheers. It roused the Hawks, too, who finally started playing some defense, and picked up the pace on offense.

“Maybe the goalie change just kind of sparked something,” Crawford said. “Really, I didn’t face too many great opportunities.”

Toews redirected a Sharp shot for a power-play goal — the Hawks’ first in 14 chances — less than a minute after Cullen’s goal to cut the lead to 3-2. And then Kane beat Pekka Rinne with a laser of a one-timer off a set faceoff play with just six seconds left in the period to cap a wild opening 20 minutes.

Both teams settled down in the second, neither side giving up a goal. Crawford earned some brief “Co-rey, Co-rey” chants with his save on a Colin Wilson backhander on a power play, and the game tumbled into the third period still tied at 3-3, where Keith again played the hero.

Like the entire series, it wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t easy. But it’s over, so now it’s onward.

“Going into the next series, we know we can build off the good things we did in this series,” Toews said. “But we know the ceiling — we’re not even close to it yet.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com
Twitter: @marklazerus