Why do you trust the Blackhawks? Because of nights like Saturday, when they began a crucial assignment in such a fashion that their coach, Joel Quenneville, could not settle for a single label. He went with “horrible,” but then realized that would not suffice, so he also tossed in “absolutely dreadful.”
Yet the Blackhawks drew on whatever it is that makes them tick — experience, character, a flair for the dramatic to boost national TV ratings — and won a game and a series. Duncan Keith scored late in the 23rd period of this best-of-seven tournament to dismiss the Nashville Predators from the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 4-3 win.
Keith’s arrow past the stick side of Pekka Rinne punctuated a siege of several waves in enemy territory, beating the same celebrated goalkeeper who succumbed to a Keith slapper that won Game 1 in double overtime after the Blackhawks had dozed through the first 20 minutes.
Why a veteran aggregation such as Chicago’s boys of winter needs a fire alarm to shake and stir them is a puzzle, unless we expand on our first sentence. You trust the Blackhawks because they trust themselves.
When Scott Darling, the town’s newest hero who helped salvage the series opener, was cited as a starter Saturday night, the expectant throng of 22,171 at the United Center all but genuflected. Yet by midway in the first period, as replacement Corey Crawford smothered the puck during a Nashville power play, the building broke out in a chorus of “COR-EY!! COR-EY!!”
You can call it a goalie controversy. You should think of it as a goalie consortium. Between Crawford and Darling, the Blackhawks overcame some glaring gaffes over the last couple weeks to eliminate a spirited and fast Nashville team that was never whole. But even without Mike Fisher rejoining the series late and Shea Weber gone entirely, the Predators evidently convinced the Blackhawks that a possible Game 7 in Nashville Monday night was fraught with pure danger.
Thus, Game 6 became a spectator’s delight. If you watched Saturday night, in person or on the tube, and you dared to look away, consult your doctor. What’s surprising is not that the score stood at 3-3 after 20 minutes. What’s surprising is that the score stood at 3-3 after 40 minutes.
Keith’s winner, you see, occurred roughly two hours after a tying goal from Patrick Kane that culminated a dizzy first period. James Neal scored on Nashville’s first shot at 1:10, then tipped in Cody Franson’s power-play launch. Patrick Sharp halved the lead when Keith’s drive sailed wide of Rinne, but took a fortuitous carom. As is their wont, the Predators responded promptly via Matt Cullen for a 3-1 margin. With 8:44 remaining, and Nashville outshooting Chicago 12-5, Darling was spared.
Crawford, naturally, yielded nothing the rest of the way, facing only 13 shots. What’s going on here? Keith surmised that, well, maybe a “reset” is required every once in a while and, yes, that coach’s decision got our attention. Meanwhile, on a power play upon a Neal crosscheck, Sharp’s shot deflected in off Jonathan Toews’ right skate. Then, off a draw, Kane took a shot from Richards and Keith to make it 3-3 at 19:54. Other than that, nothing happened in the first period.
“A lot of positives,” concluded Keith, citing the obvious fact that a few days’ rest await. And he played 28 minutes. He did not seem tired, or particularly excited. The Blackhawks are never, ever amazed when they win.