By DAVE TURNER
In a flash, the Chicago Blackhawks found themselves down 3-0 in Game 1 on the road in Nashville. After the first twenty minutes, out went the shell-shocked Corey Crawford and in came Scott Darling to try and salvage the game. Instead, it was Darling who stole the show.
Darling, with only 14 previous NHL regular season starts to his name stepped onto hostile ice and did the unthinkable. The Lemont, Ill. native stood tall as Nashville poured on the shots in the third period. After 40 minutes of perfect relief, the game headed to overtime tied at three. There's no way that Darling could hold off the Nashville onslaught in extra time, right?
Darling made save after save, some so brilliant that words can't do them justice. It was only when Duncan Keith blasted home a shot from the point that the backup netminder got the win he so deserved after a stellar performance.
"It's all adrenaline right now, that was a lot of fun," Darling said to the media, following Wednesday's game. "This is just another thing that i never would have told you would have happened, but it did and it was a great goal by (Duncan Keith) and what an effort by the boys, it was a great game."
For Chicago, a standout performance from a virtual unknown shouldn't come as a surprise. Since their 2010 Stanley Cup run, the Hawks have been in so many big games that featured countless big-time performances. It's not just the likes of Toews, Kane and Hossa that have stepped up for this club in the past. From a grinder like Bryan Bickell to a journeyman defender in Johnny Oduya, The Hawks are used to extraordinary performances by seemingly ordinary players.
So, why not a Herculean effort from a career backup who at one point last year was playing for the Cincinnati Cyclones of the ECHL? It's just the latest moment in what is a trend of unsung players stepping up to shine in the spotlight for the Blackhawks. That's what it takes to make deep playoff runs and the Hawks certainly know how to do just that.
Chicago's double overtime victory not only gives the Blackhawks home ice advantage in the series, but the come-from-behind win also reveals a lot about two two clubs.
If this series was a boxing match, the first period was a 10-7 in favor of the Predators, with Darling entering the contest just as it was about to finish in a decision for Nashville. Instead, Chicago weathered what seemed to be the best flurry of punches that the Predators had to offer and somehow came out on top with a twelfth round knockout.
The loss is a tough one to swallow for the Preds. A 3-0 lead with the opposing goaltender chased has to be a win in the playoffs. Especially at home and especially with Pekka Rinne in net. If you can't protect three-goal leads at home, what can you do then?
"You'd rather be sitting in a different position," said Predators coach Peter Laviolette to the media. Laviolette struggled at first to form a coherent sentence to describe his feelings when asked what he told his team after the loss. Weary, no doubt, after close to 100 minutes of hockey that saw his team put their best foot forward early on, only to fall short.
Nashville needed everything to break right to win this series and after one game, they'll have an early hole to climb out of. To say that the Preds are finished wouldn't be doing them any justice as a team that had 104 points in the regular season. But, to come back from a loss of this magnitude is tough, let alone against the seemingly unflappable Blackhawks.
Patrick Kane (two assists) didn't miss a beat in his return to the lineup after missing significant time following a fracture to his left clavicle. If you're Nashville, seeing Kane play with precision in his first game back is reason for concern. Game one played out as if it was the first chapter of what may be another deep playoff run by the Chicago Blackhawks.
It's a chapter that Darling will not soon forget. Whether or not he even plays one minute the rest of the way remains to be seen, but Wednesday night's thriller proves that sometimes it's the most unlikely of sources that provides the spark to ignite the engine.
Watch out, the Hawks are about to put that engine into gear.
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