By Chris Emma–
(CBS) When the classical music stopped and Joel Quenneville took the line for his Friday teleconference call, a question came that he simply didn’t want to answer.
The conversation with reporters opened with the Blackhawks’ future Hall of Fame head coach unveiling his shrewd move, sticking with Scott Darling in net for Game 6 against Nashville on Saturday night at United Center. Quenneville cited “the four games he’s been in, he’s been solid” in this opening lines.
Then came the question, something on the mind of many. What happens if Darling falters again like he did during the four-goal third period on Thursday in Game 5? Is this still Darling’s series to win or to lose?
“He’s playing tomorrow,” Quenneville said Friday. “We have to play tomorrow’s game like we have to win tomorrow’s game. That’s what we’re all about.”
Forward thinking is fair from a coach simply focused on closing out the pesky Predators on home ice. Factor in that the Blackhawks are 8-0 in Game 6s with a chance to close out a series under Quenneville, and they can rightfully feel good about their chances. This is a game Chicago could and should win.
And yes, Coach Q, this is Scott Darling’s series now. The 26-year-old rookie has been rock solid in net, and his strong play this series to bail out Crawford is more than just a fluke. Darling has been tremendous ever since he was called in relief for a Game 1 comeback victory in Nashville.
What Darling has brought to the net is good positioning, getting his 6-foot-6 frame where it has needed to be. Quenneville can’t go back to Crawford with just four periods of work in a little more than a two-week span entering a Game 7. He’s been practicing, sure, and could be ready, of course. But could you trust that in a decisive game? I wouldn’t.
Everything about the Darling story is great. The local product played his way back to Chicago through nine minor-league stops. Now, he’s been thrust into position to guide his hometown Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup.
If Crawford was to get his chance again in this series, starting him in Game 6 would’ve made the most sense. It’s a contest held on United Center ice, a comfortable, raucous environment that could bring Crawford the confidence he needs. Quenneville better be sure that Darling’s Game 5 gaffes weren’t a real concern.
It’s easy to forget that Crawford stood on his head for the majority of this regular season, that he helped the Blackhawks avoid a wild-card spot in the Western Conference and — oh, yeah — he won Chicago a Stanley Cup just two years ago.
The story of Darling is something most Chicagoans want to see continue on to a Cup, because it’s a local success for the hometown team. Likely more important to some, the backup goalie — much like the backup quarter — is always more popular, despite Crawford’s success. Perhaps the Predators’ goal barrage was the outlier to Darling’s stellar play.
Yet, given the lengthy time away from a game crease and confidence that must be shot, Crawford’s return to net seems hard to justify after Game 6, regardless of the outcome.
This is now Darling’s series. It’s in the rookie’s hands to win or lose. Quenneville better be sure it will work.
Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.