Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford has made recovering from adversity a habit in his NHL career, but that talent of bouncing back was nowhere to be found on Friday night as he allowed six goals on 35 shots in a 6-2 loss to the Nashville Predators.
While the loss only tied things up in the series and still allowed the Blackhawks to maintain home ice advantage, it was a surprising setback for Crawford. Even during the times in Friday’s game that he wasn’t allowing goals, he still looked shaky in the crease, and when the tide turned in the third period and the Predators seemed to be scoring at will, he looked like a totally dejected and defeated goaltender.
All of that stood in stark contrast to the way he normally approaches his business in the postseason. Whether it was the Vancouver series in 2011, the Stanley Cup Final in 2013, or the series against the Minnesota Wild in 2014, Crawford has been a goaltender who responds wonderfully when challenges face him. This time around, there are some serious questions as to whether he can bounce back, or whether Quenneville should go to Scott Darling for Game 3 of the series on Sunday afternoon.
As it stands right now, there are three options for Quenneville to consider. The first option is to maintain status quo, saying that Crawford has been the starter and will continue to be the starter. This option is a slightly scary one with the way he’s been playing, but it also has the potential to work effectively, as Crawford may benefit in a big way from the change of scenery and snap out of whatever funk he’s been in.
Option No. 2 is to go with Crawford in Game 3, but to warn him that he is on a really short leash. That is hardly an ideal circumstance to go with as a goaltender is fighting through some issues in the crease, but it could also have the effect of focusing Crawford’s attention, and more importantly could inspire his teammates on the defensive side of the ice to really step up their games in order to help him.
The third option is to go back to Darling. This option raises some questions, such as what the Hawks will do if Darling starts struggling, but it also has the potential of snapping the team out of their lackadaisical approach to defense, and Darling looked excellent in Game 1 of the series, so there’s always the potential that he could maintain his hot streak of play.
Ultimately, the scenario that Quenneville seems most likely to pick is option No. 1, but not by a lot. He refused to commit to Crawford after Game 2, and there is definitely a possibility that he could go back to Darling for Game 3 of this series, but the coach is also well aware of what that would mean the rest of the way. If he puts Darling in net, he isn’t coming out. If he struggles, he will have to work through it. If he’s wildly successful, he’ll go the rest of the way.
If Quenneville does bench Crawford, fans will have to resist the temptation to draw broader conclusions about where it leaves the goaltender with the team. He is almost certainly going to be the starter next season (barring a cap-saving trade, which seems like an unlikely scenario), and just because he would be benched in a playoff game wouldn’t mean that there is a long-term goaltending controversy in Chicago.