The Chicago Blackhawks are going with Scott Darling in goal for Game 3 against the Nashville Predators. The team announced the move Saturday after a brutal 6-2 loss the night before, ending speculation over whether Corey Crawford would keep his spot following a second straight terrible performance to start the postseason.
The reasons for the decision seem obvious. Crawford hasn't come through in goal for the Hawks to start the playoffs in a possible Cup year, and the series is only tied because Darling bailed the team out in Game 1 with a record-setting performance. Without any time to wait, you can see why the coaching staff would rather go with the hot hand.
Not everyone may be sold on Darling's ability to carry the team for an entire playoff run, and those reservations about his inexperience are reasonable. That's the thing about Darling, though -- his lack of success prior to this season seems to be the only mark against him.
On the ice, Darling looks every bit like a high-quality NHL goaltender. He's massive in net with his 6'6 frame, and gets from post to post surprisingly quick for someone of that size. You'd think a guy like Darling would get beat more often when opponents are able to get the puck from side to side, but Darling's shown to be adept at reacting to plays and using his length to take away scoring areas. This save sums up nicely what he brings to the table:
So I'm not really too frazzled with the idea of Darling in net, at least in a vacuum. What's really got me stirring a bit about the situation is the inexplicable collapse of Corey Crawford.
Entering the playoffs, you never would've expected Crawford to be an issue like this. He had been playing well throughout the season and finished strong over the final few weeks. Several of us picked Crawford to win the Conn Smythe Award just days ago.
Now Crawford is benched, and it's hard to get particularly upset about the move. Not only did Crawford give up a whole bunch of goals in consecutive games, but many of them felt out of character for the 30-year-old. He seemed to be aggressively hedging on the second goal Friday night, and while his defense didn't do him many favors, opponents are going to get their chances on net in the playoffs. You don't win a Stanley Cup without a goaltender who's on his game.
And somewhere between the end of the regular season and Game 1 in Nashville, Crawford got into a rut of sorts. It really doesn't make much sense. Over the final 16 games of the season, he posted a .938 save percentage and 1.94 goals against average. He had been playing so well that what's happened since seems hard to believe.
In Game 1, Crawford quickly showed he wasn't on point. The first goal came on a chance resulting from poor defense, but it wasn't exactly a wide open breakaway. And then this happened, which felt like a turning point in the game for Crow:
GIF: Stalberg goal pic.twitter.com/WOOUNSFkpR— Stephanie Vail (@myregularface) April 16, 2015
That's just a straight up mistake by Crawford trying to play that behind the net, and he quickly gave up another goal after that before the end of the first period. Then Darling came out and made 42 saves over the final two periods and overtime as the Hawks rallied with four unanswered goals.
Sticking with Crawford after Game 1 was a perfectly defensible decision given what the team had accomplished with him in goal over the previous few seasons. One bad period is one bad period, and it can happen to the best goalies sometimes. Four bad periods could be considered a trend, though, and you can see why the Hawks wouldn't want to risk not capitalizing on their home ice against a very talented opponent.
None of that stops me from being surprised it even got to this point. Crawford's had bad games in the past, but he's also been a reliable, high-quality goaltender for one of the league's best teams. He's won a Stanley Cup in the past two years. He could win another one again in the future.
This is a surprising situation, and it's hard not to wonder what happens from here. What if Darling powers the Hawks to a big playoff run? How do you go back to Crawford and his $6 million salary next season after that? The possibilities being opened up by this decision could impact the Blackhawks in a lot of ways going forward.
It's a shame it came to this, but Crawford just hasn't played well enough. It's really that simple. The Hawks aren't in a position to be patient and have an obvious alternative who has been kicking ass. Clearly whatever the coaching staff saw over the past few days convinced them Darling is the better option.
I just never thought we'd get here, at least this soon, and now I'm wondering what happens next. Other than Darling starting Game 3, there's not a whole lot that's certain about the Blackhawks' goaltending situation right now. Luckily I think we can consider having two talented goalies a good problem to have.