Rozner: Crawford smart choice for Blackhawks

  • Despite a strong performance by Scott Darling, veteran Corey Crawford will be between the pipes when the Blackhawks play Nashville in Game 2 of their Western Conference playoff series.

      Despite a strong performance by Scott Darling, veteran Corey Crawford will be between the pipes when the Blackhawks play Nashville in Game 2 of their Western Conference playoff series. Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 4/16/2015 2:23 PM

Conventional wisdom is generally wise, it being rooted in convention and all.

In hockey, it suggests that you don't bench a Stanley Cup-winning goaltender in favor of a guy who got here roughly 15 minutes ago, especially in light of the fact that most of the games you won the last few months were almost entirely because of your No. 1 goalie.

 

On top of that, Corey Crawford was to blame for only one of the first-period goals Wednesday night as his team got off to a predictably terrible start against Nashville in Game 1.

Though he seemed to hint at going the other direction postgame Wednesday, Joel Quenneville is a Hall of Fame coach and he knows how to properly weigh the possibilities and come to the logical conclusion.

While giving full credit to Scott Darling for a monumental, 42-save performance Wednesday, Quenneville did the right thing in going back to Crawford for Game 2 on Friday.

Had Quenneville stayed with Darling, he risked losing Crawford and maybe even some veterans on the team. They would have questioned his loyalty and his decision-making under duress.

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Furthermore, had Darling played well again, Quenneville would have had no choice but to stay with the rookie. That might sound like a good problem to have, but this is not January. It's the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and at some point Darling would have struggled.

Then what?

Imagine it's a week or two from now and the coach has to return to his No. 1 goalie, who hasn't played for an extended period and probably wouldn't be sharp.

Backups prepare to get thrown in. Starters need the ice time and Crawford depends on a heavy workload.

But if Darling faltered and a rusty Crawford couldn't save the day, the Hawks would be golfing and Quenneville would be kicking himself.

This way, the coach still has a bullpen ready to go if he needs relief, and given Crawford's history it should be quite the opposite. In the past, Crawford has responded well to a challenge and this is certainly that.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

So Quenneville -- often a hunch player -- handicapped the race and went with the history of his horse. It's the smart choice, even while the betting public jumped all over the flavor of the day.

It's not to say things can't change or that he won't need Darling again during the postseason, but if your goal is to win the Stanley Cup, the odds are you're more likely to win it with a guy who has been through that process than a rookie who has never experienced any of it.

The gamble would have been to rely on an unproven player who had one extraordinary performance.

"It was an easy decision," Quenneville said Thursday. "The hard part was to pull him last night. Corey has been a strength all year.

"It was just a gut call making a change after the first period, looking for a momentum change because you don't like the way things are going. I felt at that stage, down 3-0 and they scored two late goals, let's do something different. Let's try something.

"Scott Darling came in and played one of those games you never forget. What a tremendous job."

Had Quenneville chosen Darling now, it would have been seen by the veteran players as a panic move, and the guys who have been with him for a long time would have been shocked.

"It was a relatively easy decision," Quenneville said, providing a very calm response for the players. "It's a great situation knowing you have a goalie who can come in and help. But (Crawford is) your guy and you gotta go with him. It's a no-brainer."

Crawford also handled the situation like a veteran who owns a ring.

"Tough period. Those things happen," Crawford said. "I kinda got a free pass off it. The guys played well after that and (Darling) was awesome. It's nice to get a win after leaving a game like that."

Under the circumstances, the Hawks are fortunate to have a backup who can get it done, and a starter who isn't threatened by the No. 2 even after the game of his life.

"He's played awesome since he's been here," Crawford said of Darling. "We push each other and we gelled nicely.

"I wasn't surprised the way he played last night. I'm happy for him and happy to get the win.

"You have to have a short memory as a goalie. Lot of crazy things happen. All part of the game and you have to always be thinking of the next shot.

"I've had a lot of stuff happen before and learned a lot of things."

Yes, Crawford has been through much worse, like the 2012 playoff series against the Coyotes, and being questioned by the national media during the Stanley Cup Final in 2013 when he was the Hawks' best player and should have won the Conn Smythe.

History suggests Crawford will bounce back in a big way.

And Quenneville is betting on it.

brozner@dailyherald.com

• Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM.

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