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Blackhawks Thu Apr 16 2015

Darling Lifts Blackhawks Over Predators but Bigger Question Ahead

Chicago Blackhawks Most everyone in Chicago expected the Blackhawks to win Game 1 against the Predators in Music City last night. What no one ever could have predicted was how they eventually got it done.

In what easily will go down as one of the most exciting games played in the last 20 years, the Hawks went from being down 3-0 after the first 20 minutes of play, which prompted Joel Quenneville to pull goalie Corey Crawford, to clawing their way back on the very broad shoulders of Lemont native Scott Darling and eventually winning in the game's second overtime by the final of 4-3.

Hawks fans will excuse the lack of sleep after a win like that, which is nothing a few extra cups of coffee won't fix. But what likely will keep Quenneville and staff up even later on this evening's off night is deciding whether or not to re-insert the man who got them there in Crawford, or simply to ride the hot hand in Darling and see how it plays out.

Lovie Smith famously said on multiple occasions, "Rex is our quarterback," despite his inconsistent play on the field. Will Q echo those sentiments?

First and foremost, Crawford should be the Game 2 starter. Period. And it isn't because he's making $6.5 million this year, it's because he got the Blackhawks this far.

Crawford ranked 11th in the league this last regular season in goals-against average with a 2.27 mark. More impressive than that, is he finished sixth in save percentage at .924. This during a season in which Crawford faced more shots than ever before as the Hawks' net minder.

With that said, nothing should be taken away from what Darling did in between the pipes last night. His movement from post-to-post, for a man who stands 6 feet, 5 inches and weighs in at an even 200 pounds, was as impressive as any effort seen all season.

Furthermore, Darling's ability to see the puck, even through traffic -- all 42 shots -- was enough to exhaust those watching the game positioned in their recliner or bar stool. His ability to focus in on shots coming from the blue line, post, point, etc., was as impressive as the ease he displayed flicking away said efforts like a beach-goer swatting annoying flies after a dip in the lake.

What didn't help Crawford, as was the theme throughout all season, was the inability of his defense to control possession and keep the puck out of defensive zone. From that comes defensive pairings reminiscent of science experiments gone poorly.

The first that comes to mind was the play of Michal Rozsival, especially the goal that started last night's marathon. The Preds' Colin Wilson was able to corral the puck along the far side of the boards, and beat -- badly -- Rozsival, who, while skating backwards, decided to maneuver toward center, near Duncan Keith, which cleared the runway for Wilson to move right in on Crawford.

Rozsival was able to break up a few offensive threats later in the game, but overall he looked, as usual, slow and out of place, even with 19 minutes, 24 seconds of ice time last night. Perhaps Q goes with David Rundblad in Game 2.

Kimmo Timonen saw 11 minutes, 39 seconds of ice time last night, and looked every bit conservative in his puck handling and passing due to his lack of confidence in speed. He's old and isn't able to keep up with opposing speed, so his only service for now is to spell the rest of the defense.

The bigger question Quenneville and his staff need to address is whether or not to insert highly sought-after forward Antoine Vermette. The Hawks did, after all, send defenseman Klas Dahlbeck and a 2015 first-round pick to the Coyotes for Vermette's skill in faceoffs, a skill that was greatly missing last night.

The Blackhawks were smoked at the dot in Game 1, being outdrawn 54 to 34. And when you break down the faceoffs in each zone, the results are a little glaring, especially going only 14 of 29 in the defensive zone at 48 percent (the Preds were 24 of 39 in their own zone for 62 percent).

So needless to say, despite the importance of deciding who your Game 2 goalie is going to be, the more important issues Quenneville and his staff need to address involve getting over whatever Vermette did to earn the scratch and getting the defense in better position to make sure there isn't a goalie controversy moving forward.

 
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