Continuing our week long preview of the Preds-Hawks opening round, today we will look at the Blackhawks goaltenders. We’ve already looked at their forwards and their defense, so today we will examine who they’ve got between the pipes.
Corey Crawford is no stranger to Predator fans. The last time he played Nashville in the playoffs, it didn’t turn out so well for No. 50. Yes, the Blackhawks did win the series, however, it was thanks to Scott Darling.
Crawford is 1-1 with a 4.19 goals-against-average and an .850 save percentage against the Preds in the playoffs (2014-15). Save for a three year stretch from 2012 to 2015, Crawford has been fairly inconsistent in the playoffs.
The last time Nashville saw Crawford, he gave up nine goals in four periods before losing his job to Darling. Nevertheless, he is the starter and barring injury or a barrage of goals, they shouldn’t see Darling.
As you can see from the graph, Crawford is vulnerable when teams crash the net and pressure him in the crease.
Scott Darling: the Predator killer. Unfortunately for Nashville, chasing Chicago’s starting goalie may not be the best end-result. The last time Darling faced Nashville was the infamous 2014-15 playoff series. He went 3-1 with a 2.22 goals-against-average and a ridiculous .936 save percentage.
In his career, Darling is 5-2 against the Preds - including the playoffs. He performed very well this year when Corey Crawford went down with an appendectomy, winning 18 of the 23 games he started.
Based on this season, Darling’s weakness is in the crease as well - blocker side. This can be problematic for Chicago with players such as Viktor Arvidsson — and more recently Colin Wilson — going hard to the net.
The Bottom Line
There is no doubt this series will be decided by goaltending. Crawford and Darling both had statistically-good regular seasons. This is one of the rare cases where the Preds would rather face the starter than the backup.
The Nashville Predators play their best hockey with their backs against the wall. Every so-called “hockey expert” is picking Chicago to win this series, so against the wall they will be.
In order for Nashville to score goals, regardless of who the goalie is, they need to crash the net and be aggressive. Both goaltenders are susceptible to allowing goals when they are pressured directly in the crease.