The Chicago Blackhawks got the postseason off to an appropriately zany start on Wednesday night, charging back from a 3-0 deficit and seizing a 4-3 victory over the Nashville Predators in Game 1 of the teams’ first round series.
The game was started by Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford, but after conceding three goals on 12 shots, he was replaced by back-up netminder Scott Darling. Darling, who played in 14 games for the Blackhawks during the regular season, promptly came in and stopped the next 42 shots that he faced, leading the Blackhawks to the comeback victory.
After his wild success, which saw him make save after incredible save as he stymied the Predators, the question that inevitably is going to come up among Blackhawks’ fans is this: Should Darling start Game 2 of the series over Crawford?
The argument for such a move is simple. When the playoffs roll around, coaches tend to “go with the hot hand” when it comes to netminders. In Detroit for example, the Red Wings are going with Petr Mrazek over Jimmy Howard in net, as Howard has struggled mightily over the final weeks of the season. Jake Allen will also be starting in net for the St. Louis Blues, usurping regular starter Brian Elliott in the blue paint.
In the case of the Blackhawks, Darling didn’t just come in and mop up after Crawford left Wednesday’s game. He was forced to make some incredible saves during his time in the net, and he didn’t look fazed by the bright lights of the playoff stage. Making 42 saves against an offense that was working as effectively as the Predators’ was on Wednesday night is quite a feat, and it’s certainly one that will encourage debate.
All of that being said, it’s highly unlikely that Darling will get the start over Crawford, and that is the right way to go. “Hot hand” tactics are all well and good, but Crawford is coming off of arguably the best regular season of his career. One bad period that saw a slew of defensive breakdowns (the biggest one was Michal Rozsival’s defensive gaffe on the first goal) and a really trick deflection (Seth Jones’ shot from the point was deflected in by Colin Wilson in front) shouldn’t undo all of that work that he put in for six months during the season, and Crawford should be in net for Game 2.