For the third time in six years, the Chicago Blackhawks have won the Stanley Cup. On June 15, Chicago defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games to win the sixth Stanley Cup in team history. It was a wild 23-game ride for the Blackhawks before they were finally able to hoist the greatest trophy in all of sports.
Duncan Keith was unanimously awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy, given to the most valuable player to his team during the playoffs. Keith scored 21 points (3 goals, 18 assists) in 23 games and logged the second-highest average time on ice this playoffs (31:06).
Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were also worthy of the Conn Smythe. Toews had 21 points (10 g, 11 a), and Kane’s 23 points (11 g, 12 a) placed tied for first in playoff scoring.
But one player who will not be recognized as arguably the biggest reason the Blackhawks were able to advance past the Western Conference Quarterfinals is backup goaltender Scott Darling.
After 20 minutes of play in Game 1, the Nashville Predators already solved starter Corey Crawford. Nashville went to the dressing room after the first period with a 3-0 lead on just 12 shots.
Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville pulled Crawford and put Darling in the net to make his playoff debut in relief. Darling had one job when he entered the game to begin the second period: keep the Blackhawks from getting blown out to begin the seven-game series.
Chicago answered Nashville’s three-goal first period with a three-goal second period to tie the game entering the third period. With help from Darling’s stellar 42-save performance, the Blackhawks were able to complete the Game 1 comeback in a 4-3 double overtime win.
Despite Quenneville calling it “one of the best relief performances you’ll ever see,” he turned right back to his 2013 Stanley Cup champion goaltender for Game 2. Once again, Crawford was picked apart by the Preds, allowing six goals on 35 shots in a 6-2 loss.
At that point, Quenneville had no other option than to start Darling for Game 3 as the series shifted to United Center. Darling made 35 saves in a 4-2 win to take a 2-1 series lead.
Quenneville stuck with the hot hand in Game 4, and Darling stopped 52 shots in a 3-2 triple overtime victory. Darling and the Blackhawks would return to the Music City for Game 5 with a strong 3-1 series lead.
Nashville finally solved Darling in Game 5 scoring four goals on 28 shots to extend the series. Game 6 was even worse for Darling as he was pulled just 11:16 into the game after the Predators scored three goals on twelve shots. Crawford entered the game in relief down 3-1, and in almost an exact remake of Game 1, Chicago scored three unanswered goals to win 4-3 and advance to the Western Conference Semifinals.
After Game 6, Darling did not see any net time for the rest of the playoffs. In 5 games played, he was 3-1-0 with a 2.21 goals against average and .936 save percentage. His amazing short stint likely pushed Crawford to be better.
Without Darling, odds are, the Blackhawks would not have advanced past the Predators. He is the true playoff MVP for Chicago.
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Colin Fitts is a Nashville Predators staff writer and is a credentialed media member of the Chicago Wolves. From Nashville, Tennessee, Colin majors in journalism and public relations at Columbia College Chicago. Follow him on Twitter, @FittsTHW. Email: 22fitts [at] gmail [dot] com.