Corey Crawford is the starting goaltender for the Chicago Blackhawks. As much as that irks some people for whatever reason, it’s the truth, though there have been moments where his hold on the spot has gotten tenuous.
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One of those moments came in the Blackhawks’ opening-round Stanley Cup playoff series against Nashville this year. Crow (and his teammates) had a rough first period in the opening game, resulting in Scott Darling getting the call. After Darling performed tremendously (with his teammates also responding well to the goaltender change) in the rest of that opener, he started every other game in the Predators series.
But things got slippery again in what turned out to be the series’ final game. And that’s the one we’re looking at today as our countdown of top Chicago Blackhawks playoff wins under coach Joel Quenneville continues.
Note: Check out the previous entries in this series at the end of this post.
No. 32: 2015 Western Conference first round, Game 6
Chicago Blackhawks 4, Nashville Predators 3
Do I rank this game relatively high on the list because it featured a finer moment for Crawford? Maybe. I’m a pretty big Crow fan, though I will say I never want to see Darling or any other Blackhawks goaltender get yanked, especially in a postseason game.
Crow grabbed the spotlight in this one and ran with it, but there was plenty of action before No. 50 hit the ice.
That action went against Chicago, and quickly, when Seth Jones attempted to carry a puck into his offensive zone with James Neal skating alongside. Jones was blocked by Niklas Hjalmarsson, but the Nashville defenseman got a little piece of the puck and managed to tip it to Neal. Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya, as well as Jonathan Toews on the backcheck, didn’t do too much to stop Neal from getting in on Darling. The Preds forward sent a backhander past the Blackhawks goaltender, and Nashville was off and running just 1:10 in.
Unfortunately, Neal would get another laugh in before the Blackhawks could dent the scoresheet. With Kimmo Timonen in the box for a holding penalty, Cody Franson wired a shot from the point and into traffic in front of Darling. It’d be Neal getting the deflection, and the puck beat Darling for a 2-0 Preds lead less than nine minutes into the game.
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Chicago wouldn’t wait long to respond, though. Duncan Keith blasted a shot from his blue line that Pekka Rinne turned aside. His pad save sent the puck to the area just below the circle to Rinne’s left, where Patrick Sharp was stationed. Sharp managed to beat Rinne with a shot before the goaltender could move side to side, and the Blackhawks showed their first real sign of life while cutting Nashville’s lead in half just two and a half minutes after Neal’s second goal.
But the Preds took a page out of the Blackhawks’ book by quickly attacking in response to giving up a goal. Matt Cullen pretty much pantsed Keith, which doesn’t happen too often, and got right in front of Darling. With plenty of options, Cullen opted for a quick wrister over Darling’s right shoulder to extend the Preds’ lead back to two before Gene Honda could even finish announcing Sharp’s goal.
Quenneville decided, much like in Game 1, that a new goaltender was needed to wake his team up. In came Crawford, and out went Darling having allowed three goals on 12 shots. From looking at those goals, and the high shot total less than 12 minutes in, you could certainly say the Blackhawks did little to help their netminder.
The focus quickly shifted away from the Chicago net, however, when Sharp slapped a shot from just above the circles that found Toews’ stick in front of Rinne. The captain deflected a powerplay goal home, and the Blackhawks were again within one. The four goals scored after Neal’s first came in a span of 4:05, something that would become a recurring event in Blackhawks games during this postseason.
Chicago wasn’t about to settle for a one-goal deficit heading into the locker room though. Brad Richards was taking an offensive-zone draw for the Blackhawks with less than 10 seconds to go in the first. Eddie Olczyk, doing color commentary for this game, had just finished saying the Blackhawks would look for an immediate shot on net if they won this draw. He wasn’t wrong, as Richards won the draw to Keith, who tapped the puck over to Patrick Kane for an immediate slapshot. The puck somehow found its way through traffic and high past Rinne, and we were back where we started — all tied up.
The Blackhawks got pretty lucky on Nashville’s next big scoring chance, which came about five minutes into the second. Craig Smith and Mike Fisher were off to the races on a 2-on-1 with Michal Rozsival (gulp) back. Smith decided to take the shot, which Crawford saved with his shoulder. The puck fell right behind where Fisher was skating. But before he could react, the nearest official had blown the play dead due to losing sight of the puck.
The play in question. (Screenshot from YouTube)
If you look closely, you can see a black speck at the back of the left skate of Fisher (No. 12). That’s the puck. But with Crawford, Keith and Fisher in the way, the referee had no idea where the puck had gone and blew the play dead. A lucky break for Chicago.
Keith would respond to this by creating a fantastic chance of his own, skating around a Nashville forward to give himself a great lane between the circles. His following wrister was sent high off Rinne and away from the net.
Crawford would need to make some great saves on a Nashville powerplay midway through the second, with Nashville’s series MVP, Colin Wilson, getting the best bid with a spinaround backhander right on the doorstep. Some rebound shots were also shut down by Crow. Rinne responded with a nice save on a Brent Seabrook point shot through traffic, tipping the puck aside with a sharp glove save.
No one would score in the second despite these chances, so it was on to the third. The teams did some more scoring-chance trading before a ridiculous bid for the Blackhawks with about four minutes to go led to what would be the game-winning goal.
Seabrook slapped a shot on net that Rinne got a piece of, but he put himself in awful positioning by lunging at the shot. The puck wound up ricocheting awkwardly off the end boards and right back into the crease, where Toews was skating by. He seemingly had an open net to shoot at, but Jones was also coming by and got in the way of the shot. The puck still sat in a dangerous area with Rinne struggling to get back into position. Keith was next up with a bid, but Cullen got his stick in front of that shot to prevent it from getting through.
From there, Keith tried to put another shot on net from behind Rinne but couldn’t get it to go. Roman Josi would wind up with the puck behind the net and blindly fired it around the boards in a clearing attempt. Seabrook raced over to stop it from leaving the zone, and after some more blocked shot attempts and passing, Keith had it once more, this time at the point. He waited to see if there was a passing lane, then just decided to fire a shot on goal. It turned out to be the smart move, as he beat Rinne through traffic and put the Blackhawks ahead for good.
Crawford was pretty excited after the clock hit zero in this one, and the first person to greet him at the net was Keith. Those two and the rest of the Blackhawks closed out Nashville with this win, moving them on to a Western Conference semifinal series against Minnesota. Crawford recorded 13 saves on 13 shots in his relief appearance in this game and went on to start every game in the rest of Chicago’s Stanley Cup run.
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