Going into Saturday’s game against the Nashville Predators, Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville had a decision to make: should he stick with rookie goaltender Scott Darling, who had won three games for the team so far in the best-of-seven series, or should he go with veteran Corey Crawford, who was pulled in Game 1 and hadn’t started a game since a 6-2 loss in Game 2 of the series?
Ultimately, Quenneville went with Darling for Game 6 of the series, and in doing so he opted to go with the hot hand over the veteran. Earlier in the series he had hinted at Crawford’s eventual return to the net, but the decision to go with Darling in this game would seem to indicate that a return for Crawford wouldn’t be in the cards.
Or is it?
If the Blackhawks were to lose Game 6 on Saturday night, who would end up playing in goal for Chicago in a winner-take-all Game 7 in Nashville on Monday? Would it be Darling, who would have lost two consecutive games and has never played in a Game 7 before? Or would it be Crawford, who struggled earlier in this series but has historically played well in clinching games for the Blackhawks?
The answer isn’t as simple as just questioning which goaltender is better suited for the job either. If Quenneville goes back to Crawford, he will have to expect at least a little bit of rust to be a factor, as Crawford will have gone about a week and a half without seeing any playing time. On the other hand, if he goes with Darling, he could have to contend with some confidence issues, considering that the netminder would have lost consecutive games and doesn’t exactly have an NHL track record with which to help judge how he will respond to challenges on the ice.
Ultimately, Quenneville would probably decide to go with Crawford in that hypothetical situation, but there’s an argument to be made that he has already made his bed with the Darling decision. Going with Darling in Game 6 indicates that the coach is hesitant in Crawford’s ability to get himself right for a critical game, and that is surely not lost on the goaltender. Could he possibly overcome that kind of statement and win a Game 7?
That’s a big-time question, and one that the Blackhawks are hoping that they can avoid answering by winning Game 6 on Saturday.