In Game 1, sterling performance by a rookie netminder erased an abysmal one by a Stanley Cup winner. The Predators jumped out of the gate on fire, but soon became the victims of the demons that have haunted them for weeks. Tonight is a chance at exorcism and redemption in one fell swoop.
The Chicago Blackhawks
Scott Darling slammed the door and nailed it shut against the Predators on Wednesday night. 42 saves on 42 shots in a surprise relief appearance is nothing to sneeze it. It was record breaking, in fact, according to Elias Sports Bureau:
He's so new he doesn't even have a picture. So far this year, Darling has stopped 74 of the 75 shots the Predators have pumped at him. He's been Preds' kryptonite. Murmurs even started that he could dethrone Corey Crawford from his established role.
Game 2 starting goaltender: Corey Crawford.— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) April 16, 2015
Well never mind.
It's probably the right call if you're Joel Quenneville. Crawford has been there before, and is the de facto starter. Darling, despite his stellar play, has 14 games of NHL work to his credit and was playing in the SPHL just a few years ago. Maybe Wednesday's performance wasn't a fluke, but odds are he's not going to keep up a .986 Sv% or above for an entire series.
One thing's for sure, Coach Q showed he isn't afraid to turn to Darling if things quickly go sour. Crawford will be on a short leash.
In his return to action, Blackhawks' savior Patrick Kane had 2 assists and 4 shots in 23:08 TOI. He also made the Chicago power play look a little more deadly than it has recently. That said, Kane was on the ice for the opening tally, and his 44 CF% was fourth-worst on the team. In fact, his entire line of Brad Richards and Kris Versteeg were the worst performing skaters in terms of possession. Each of them also saw heavily sheltered minutes, starting in the offensive zone 92% of the time.
According to War on Ice's shift chart, it looks like Peter Laviolette has tasked Seth Jones and Anton Volchenkov with matching up with Chicago's second line. So far so good. Now about that first line...
The Nashville Predators
A few updates from yesterday's skate:
Mike Fisher remains day-to-day with a lower-body injury. No further update.— Adam Vingan (@AdamVingan) April 16, 2015
Franson, Santorelli, Fiala, Bartley and Hutton practicing today for the #Preds.— Robby Stanley (@RStanley247) April 16, 2015
We'll know more about Mike Fisher today, but losing him for any stretch of time is going to be significant, as we've seen. Fisher is one of the best penalty killing forwards, and with an already below average PK, the Preds could find themselves in trouble.
If there is anything positive to take out of Wednesday night's heartbreak, the Hawks did not look like the overpowering juggernaut they're made out to be. (Second period notwithstanding.) Though Chicago owned the edge in shot attempts (74-66), Nashville dug themselves a gigantic hole by falling asleep in the second, but making up that ground in the later periods is impressive in its own right.
They key now, (as we've said over and over and over again) is to string that together for the entire hockey game. If the team that showed up in the first and through the overtime periods sticks around, it's going to be a series.
Sights and Sounds
If you're local you can catch the game on FS-TN with your eyes, or 102.5 The Game with your ears. Everyone else can tune into NBCSN for an 8:30 p.m. puck drop. You read that right, it's a later start tonight. More time to drink to calm your nerves.