Why flip-flopping goalies is working for the Blackhawks
Collin Delia knew this was it. Do or die time.
Racing down the ice -- with just more than a minute elapsed in overtime -- was Vancouver's rookie phenom Elias Pettersson.
Pettersson exploded past center ice, then past the blue line and was a second away from possibly giving the Canucks a huge victory over the Blackhawks at the United Center last Thursday.
Delia, in the biggest game of his nascent NHL career, watched Pettersson's stick. His body language. His eyes. His torso.
And managed to make the save, by far the biggest of his 40 in the Hawks' 4-3 victory.
Two days prior in Edmonton, Cam Ward watched Connor McDavid burst into the offensive zone and backhand a perfect pass to a streaking Ty Rattie.
The Hawks were about to go down 3-1 late in the second period. No way Rattie misses from just 10 feet away.
Yet, he did, thanks to a quick-thinking Ward, who stretched out his right leg to deny the Oiles' winger. Buoyed by that stop, the Hawks stunned Edmonton with 5 third-period goals en route to a 6-2 victory.
Since Corey Crawford was injured, this uncommon 1-2 goalie punch has not only kept the Hawks afloat but sprung them right into playoff contention.
"We like them both and they're doing a good job, so why wouldn't we keep both of them fresh and ready?" coach Jeremy Colliton said. "As long as that continues, we'll probably keep this arrangement."
Delia is 6-3-3 with a .916 save percentage and 3.22 goals-against average in 12 starts, while Ward is 7-3-0 since getting on his teammates for their brutal defense in a 7-3 loss to the Sharks on Dec. 16.
"I feel composed, smoother in my game," said Ward, whose made 43 saves during the Hawks' 5-2 win over Detroit on Sunday. "Sometimes you want it so bad that you try so hard that it can work against you. Sometimes less is more.
"I'm seeing the puck and have been real patient in my movements. In turn, it's turned into a better performance."
The experience difference between Ward and Delia could not be any wider. In Ward, the Hawks can turn to a 34-year-old veteran who has won a Stanley Cup and boasts nearly 700 NHL games to his name. In Delia, who signed a three-year contract extension Monday, the Hawks are staring at their future in the cool, calm 24-year-old California native.
This flip-flopping system the Hawks are employing definitely feels a bit odd to Ward, who averaged 54 starts from 2014-17. Still, he went through a strange situation last year as well when he reclaimed the starter's net after Scott Darling struggled in his first season with the Hurricanes.
"Where I'm at in my career, I don't want to overthink it," Ward said. "When called upon, step up and perform and do your job.
"I'm also there to support Collin too, because he is the future. It'd be great to see him succeed and take that next step in his career."
Delia proved he wants to do exactly that during the Hawks bye week when he eschewed the beaches and headed to Massachusetts to work on his game.
"Sounds typical of him," Colliton said. "That's how he is. He really cares about being great. He wants to be a top player in this league, and he's willing to work at it.
"That's great for him and great for the organization."
Said Delia: "Just got a little alone time with myself on the ice and worked on some things that I felt I had been deficient in. I think we all used the break to our benefit."
The Hawks are still considered a longshot to make the playoffs -- they have just a 9.6 percent chance as of Tuesday, according to hockeyreference.com -- but don't tell them that.
Momentum is a funny thing, and if their goalies -- which may soon include the recovering Crawford -- keep this up, who's to say they can't defy those odds and electrify the city with another postseason berth?
"I love that we're playing for something and guys have that belief in the locker room that if we keep doing what we're doing we're going to give ourselves an opportunity," Ward said. "Obviously, you take care of what you can control and that's going out there and win hockey games.
"We want to just keep this thing rolling."
Two-headed monsterHow Cam Ward and Collin Delia have fared since Corey Crawford was injured on Dec. 16:
WardRecord Save pct. GAA
7-3-0 .912 2.99
DeliaRecord Save pct. GAA
6-3-3 .916 3.22
A look at Ward and Delia during the Hawks' last eight games:
Date, opp. Goalie Sv/shot
Jan. 20, Wash. Delia (W) 34/39
Jan. 22, Isles Ward (W) 34/36
Feb. 1, Buffalo Ward (W) 40/43
Feb. 2, Minn. Delia (W) 28/31
Feb. 5, Edm. Ward (W) 25/27
Feb. 7, Van. Delia (W) 40/43
Feb. 10, Det. Ward (W) 43/45
Feb. 12, Bos. Delia (L) 31/37