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Blackhawks stick with goalie Crawford for Game 2

by Brian Hedger /

NASHVILLE -- Scott Darling rescued the Chicago Blackhawks with a great relief appearance in Game 1 of a Western Conference First Round series against the Nashville Predators, but Corey Crawford will be back in goal to start Game 2 at Bridgestone Arena on Friday (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, SN360, TVA Sports 3, CSN-CH, SPSO).

During a conference call Thursday, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville doused the notion of a goalie controversy brewing one game into the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He's standing firmly by Crawford, who was replaced by Darling on Wednesday after allowing three goals on 12 shots in the first period; Chicago rallied for a 4-3 double-overtime victory.

"I think it kind of was an easy decision," said Quenneville, who gave the Blackhawks a day off. "He [Crawford] is our starting goalie. He's been our strength all year long. It was one period and it was won collectively as a team, goaltending all the way out through the forwards. I thought our first period was ordinary at best and we look forward to him getting back in the net [Friday]."

Darling's play in Game 1 prompted fans to campaign for him starting Game 2. He stopped all 42 shots he faced after entering the game at the start of the second period; his 67:44 of shutout hockey is the longest shutout relief appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Quenneville said it was a gut feeling to make the switch in Game 1 and said he hoped it would sparked a turnaround. Darling made him look brilliant, but it's still Crawford's net.

"This one was easy," Quenneville said when asked if he had any hesitations. "Commend [Darling] on playing a great game, doing everything he could to get us the win, and it's a great situation knowing that you've got a goaltender like that ready to come in and help and play. Who knows the decisions down the road, but this one was relatively easy."

Crawford, who started every postseason game in the Blackhawks' 2013 Stanley Cup championship, came into the playoffs off arguably his best season. He went 32-20-5 and led Chicago to a tie with the Montreal Canadiens for a share of the William M. Jennings Trophy for fewest goals allowed; it's the second time Crawford has helped win that trophy in the past three seasons.

He finished the season with a 2.27 goals-against average and ranked sixth in the NHL with a .924 save percentage in 57 games.

"It was kind of a no-brainer [to start Crawford]," Quenneville said. "In that situation [after the first period], there's no book to look in and say, 'OK, what should I do at this moment?' It's a feel thing and it's not something that we're accustomed to doing. But the decision to go back with Corey was very easy."

Crawford was upset about getting pulled but was one of the first players on the ice to congratulate Darling for a memorable performance.

Darling, who earned a contract during a training-camp tryout, has impressed all season. He went 9-4-1 with a 1.94 GAA and .936 save percentage in 14 games and replaced Antti Raanta as Crawford backup in February. He also signed a two-year contract in February.

"I got to know him a little bit through training camp," Crawford said of Darling. "He seemed like a great guy and I noticed he was a really good goalie too, right off the bat. He's played awesome since he's been here and we've just kind of gelled together and we push each other to be at our best. I wasn't really surprised, actually, the way he played [Wednesday]. It was great to see him do that. I was happy for him and happy [we got] the win too."

Crawford sounded ready for another game against Nashville and doesn't seem rattled at all. He credits extensive experience as the reason.

"You have to have a short memory as a goalie," Crawford said. "There's a lot of crazy things that happen. It's all part of the game and you always have to be thinking of the next shot and not let whatever happened bother what's going to happen next. I've learned a lot in my career and I've had a lot of stuff happen before. Things like this happen once in a while so you just have to keep battling and working hard."

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