As frustrating as it may be that the Chicago Blackhawks played 40 minutes of solid hockey only to collapse in the final 20, it isn't a tremendous surprise that they ultimately came up short in Nashville in Game 5. They were against a Predators club that had their collective backs up against the wall and were playing at home. It happens.
But if there's going to be one change that is made between Game 5 and Saturday's Game 6 in Chicago, it should be a return of Corey Crawford to the crease for the Blackhawks.
This isn't an indictment of Scott Darling by any means. Darling did the job he was expected to do in his trio of starts, with the exception of Thursday night. He had that strong relief performance in Game 1, turned in a decent enough performance in Game 3, and was essential in the Game 4 Triple OT affair. He has done everything that the Blackhawks have asked him to, and you're unlikely to find a writer on this site that disagrees with the decision to continue riding the hot hand.
At the same time, though, this net was never going to be Scott Darling's on a permanent basis. Even with a salary cap crunch coming up this summer, Joel Quenneville was always going to turn back to Corey Crawford. He's a franchise goaltender that has won a Stanley Cup and was key in helping this team even reach the postseason, when the team in front of him failed to show up on so many occasions during the regular season. Say what you want about the contract, there's a reson for it.
As much as Joel Quenneville succeeded in firing up a good ol' fashioned goaltending controversy, there was always going to be a point in which Crawford returned to the net. While the 5-2 loss on Thursday night isn't completely on Darling, the Blackhawks are now provided with the opportunity to get Corey Crawford back between the pipes, and back on track.
Coming back in Game 4 didn't make a ton of sense, and it certainly didn't add up after Darling got the Hawks through 3OT. But coming off of a loss, and returning to the United Center for Game 6, provides Corey Crawford with the perfect setting to round back into form.
Obviously the results haven't been terrific for Crawford thus far in the postseason, and that's a pretty serious understatement. Nine goals in 47 shots in the series opened the door for Darling, who performed as well as he could have. But the Blackhawks rode out the hot hand, and the time is now to return to their established franchise goaltender in net.
Corey Crawford has won a Stanley Cup. Darling has performed well in a small sample, but the Blackhawks would still be venturing into the relative unknown in continuing to ride him out as their starter. Again, this is not an indictment of Scott Darling as it is an acknowledgement that things were always going to return to a situation where the net is Crawford's.
With the Preds coming to the United Center for a Game 6 tilt, the Blackhawks have another opportunity to close it out. The goal is obviously to end it there, rather than allowing Nashville to return home for a decisive Game 7. Get Crawford back in net, finish it off, eliminate the goaltending controversy, and move onto Round 2. That was always going to be the case for the Blackhawks, and Saturday night provides them with an ideal scenario to do just that.
Randy Holt is a staff writer for Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RandallPnkFloyd.