Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Scott Darling played a great game in Chicago’s 6-4 victory over the Boston Bruins on Sunday. With 42 saves on 46 shots faced, including five saves that came during the Bruins’ one powerplay, Darling scrambled to keep the Blackhawks in a position to win this game. Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin are sure to steal the headlines with their performances — both had four-point games, and Kane shot a cool hat trick and reached the 100-point milestone for this regular season.
Both skaters deserve their due praise, and it should be noted that both skaters were on the ice for just one of the Bruins’ four goals, making them two of only five players who finished the afternoon with positive plus/minus ratings. So yes, Kane and Panarin put on an offensive showcase and made it look so so easy. And yes, it is impressive that the Blackhawks scored six goals on only 34 shots. But, they still might have lost it all, if not for Darling’s play in net.
A .913 save percentage on 42 saves on 46 shots faced. The statistics alone tell of Darling’s incredible effort against a dangerous and aggressive Boston Bruins team. The Bruins shoot more, and score more, than most teams in the NHL. They are ranked fourth in the league in shots per game, goals per game and total goals, with an average of 31.8 shots per game, 2.90 goals for per game and 229 goals total.
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Sunday they racked up 46 shots and four goals against Chicago, numbers that are well beyond their average effort. The Bruins fought hard to try and sink the Blackhawks, even after being down 6-0 in the second period. They rallied to score two quick goals at the end of the second period, and they didn’t let up, putting two more past Darling in the third.
After Sunday’s defeat, Boston surrendered its wild-card spot, falling one point behind the Philadelphia Flyers. The match against the Blackhawks was a must-win for the Bruins, and they battled hard all game — dominated much of the game, in fact. There are really only two reasons Boston’s tenacious play did not end in victory: a Blackhawks scoring frenzy, and a stellar performance from Scott Darling.
But what about the four goals that Darling let in? Here’s a quick look at the goals scored by the Boston Bruins:
- Blackhawks defensemen got sucked into the offensive play, with Michal Rozsival down near the top of the circle and Erik Gustafsson trying to carry the puck down low. Gustafsson lost the puck and Bruins forward David Krejci flipped a quick pass ahead to a breaking David Pastrnak. With no real back-pressure, Pastrnak was in alone, and he patiently tucked the puck home after beating Darling with a little forehand-backhand-forehand. Great finish from Pastrnak. The Blackhawks left Darling out to dry.
- Chicago lost a neutral-ice faceoff. The Bruins carried it in and slid a pass across the ice in front of goal. The Blackhawks’ defense allowed Loui Eriksson and Patrice Bergeron to set a screen in front of Darling. Then, as the shot came through, Bergeron got his stick on the puck, redirecting it off the far post and into the net.
- The Blackhawks failed to clear the puck out of their defensive end. Bruins forward Brad Marchand knocked the puck down, pulled ‘Hawks D-man Niklas Hjalmarsson out of position, and then distributed the puck to the point man. Eriksson and Bergeron slipped behind Hjalmarsson, with Eriksson receiving the pass from the point and serving a nice pass to Bergeron, who knocked it home. Four Chicago skaters watched from above the circles as the Bruins worked a nice play down low for an easy goal.
- Another goal off a deflection. Bruins defenseman Torey Krug forced a turnover in neutral ice and then sprinted in for a shot on goal. The Bruins collected the rebound and worked the puck back to Krug, who circled up toward the faceoff dot. Brad Marchand snuck around a stagnant Trevor van Riemsdyk, and Krug zipped a pass towards goal. The pass connected with Marchand’s skate and slid across the goal line. Poor play along the boards from the Blackhawks allowed the Bruins to quickly find the rebound and work the puck to the front of the net. Van Riemsdyk fell asleep on the back post and let Marchand get in for the goal.
All of these goals could have been prevented. None of these goals went in due to poor play from Darling. No, the fault rests with the Blackhawks’ skaters. Three of the goals started with turnovers. Two of the goals were deflected in, and goaltenders have a harder time stopping deflections. One common thread is passive play in front of net. On both deflection goals, Bruins forwards were able to get to the net without having to fight through any Blackhawks resistance. This is a problem that haunted Chicago in games against the Dallas Stars and the Minnesota Wild.
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The Blackhawks need to play tougher down low and they need to clear the area in front of their netminder. Another recurring effect of poor defensive health: On three of the plays that resulted in goals (not the breakaway), the Blackhawks were out of position and slow to react to the quickly developing play. It seems there is a lack of focus, and opposing teams have been quick to take advantage. Chicago cannot expect to survive the playoffs if it continues to play sloppily. More focused play will result in fewer turnovers, which will prevent the disorganization that has cost the Blackhawks both goals and games in recent weeks.
Darling really put out for his team against the persistent Boston Bruins. He saved the day, and he made his teammates look really good — or at least he made them look a lot better than they played. The Blackhawks need to resolve their defensive issues, so they can return the favor and make Darling look good, even when he’s having a bad night.