NASHVILLE—The Blackhawks could not have started worse giving up three goals on the first 12 shots, forcing coach Joel Quenneville to yank goalie Corey Crawford.Scott Darling came off the bench and made his postseason debut a game to remember.Darling stopped all 42 shots he faced, and Duncan Keith scored at 7:49 of double overtime helping the Blackhawks rally and beat the Nashville Predators 4-3 Wednesday night.
”It was a great opportunity for him, and he seized the moment …” Quenneville said of Darling. ”That was one of the greatest relief performances you’re going to see.”
The Blackhawks finished only two points back of Nashville in the Central Division, and they grabbed home-ice advantage back despite benching Crawford after the first period. Darling had played only 14 NHL games, but he stopped every subsequent shot as Nashville took 54 – a franchise record for the playoffs.Not bad for someone who split this season between the Blackhawks and Rockford in the American Hockey League. But Darling went 9-4-0 during the season, and he posted a 1.95 goals against average.
”You just kind of get thrown into it,” Darling said. ”It was exciting and nerve-wracking, but once I got going, I felt good.”
Keith ended the game with his one-timer from the blue line. Jonathan Toews had a goal and an assist, and Niklas Hjalmarsson, Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews each scored for the Hawks. Patrick Kane also had two assists in his return after missing 21 games with a broken collarbone.Keith credited Marian Hossa with getting a bank pass back to him before trying to put the puck on net as quickly as possible. His shot beat Pekka Rinne on the glove side.
”I don’t know if the goalie was able to see it very well,” Keith said. ”I think we had some guys going to the net and maybe helped out on the screen. I just want to get it on net. I was lucky that it went in. It was nice to get the game over with.”
Colin Wilson scored twice and Viktor Stalberg had a goal, all in the first period for the Predators.Game 2 is Friday night in Nashville.The Hawks came in leading the NHL with 57 postseason wins dating back to 2009 with two Stanley Cup titles – and just missed playing for another last year, losing the Western Conference finals in seven games. So falling behind 0-3 after the first period was no big deal for the Blackhawks.Nashville was playing its first postseason game since 2012 and had a standing room only crowd. The Predators missed their first division title with a late-season skid and came into the playoffs in an 0-4-2 slide. The Hawks lost their last four regular-season games.Both teams looked ready for the postseason, though the Blackhawks didn’t get going until the second period.The Predators got a nice boost from a crowd filled with Nashville fans after the team limited early ticket sales to this game to local stores and the box office. That kept the inside of the arena painted gold, with very few of the Blackhawks faithful who usually take advantage of the short flight from Chicago on hand.Nashville forced Crawford out with three goals on 12 shots in the first period.Wilson, who snapped a 15-game goal drought, scored first with a wrister and then tipping a shot by Seth Jones. Stalberg, waived twice by Nashville this season, spending much of the season in Milwaukee, scored on a wraparound late in the first period when Crawford got caught at the end boards playing the puck.Darling was helped by facing only four shots in the second period as the Hawks answered with three goals – two with a man advantage. Hjalmarsson scored on a snap shot on 4-on-4, then Sharp scored on a slap shot just 11 seconds after getting a 5-on-3.Then 17 seconds after Mattias Ekholm went to the box for cross checking, Toews tied it from close range.Darling got the Hawks to overtime with a handful of big saves in the third period, stopping Ryan Ellis and then Roman Josi by sticking his right leg out to the post. He had several more stops in the overtimes, and officials missed Keith pulling Taylor Beck down by grabbing the back of his pants in the first overtime.
NOTES—The Hawks and Quenneville are 10-7 in the first game of a playoff series. … The Predators finished without center Mike Fisher, who left with a lower-body injury after playing 25 seconds of the second period. … Both the Blackhawks and Nashville managed three goals each on their last 25 power plays of the regular season; the Blackhawks had two with the Predators one in this game. … Nashville is 2-6 all-time in overtime in the playoffs.