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The homestanding Hawks better be able to beat a Nashville team playing without an injured Shea Weber. If they didn't, they might have somehow found a way to bounce back later in this series, but they wouldn't be going any further.
Now especially if one of the best defensemen in the league remains sidelined, the Hawks better win Game Four at home and put themselves in position to finish this series off in five in Nashville in the middle of the week.
As for goalie Scott Darling, the less-than-hockey-savvy local sports media point out he has saved 77 of the 79 shots he has faced in a couple games' worth (with an overtime-and-a-half thrown in) of postseason action and dub it a "brilliant" performance. I don't want to be too much of a buzzkill but Darling was only average Sunday afternoon; he benefitted from great defense in front of him and more than 90 percent of his saves were routine.
If I'm Joel Quenneville, I'm starting Darling in Game 4 but I have a quick hook. If he gives up a couple goals in a period, I am seriously tempted to go back to Corey Crawford immediately. And if Darling gives up three or more goals in a loss, Crawford starts Game 5. Let's all continue to remember that Crawford back-stopped a Stanley Cup championship run, okay? He shared the Jennings Trophy for lowest goals-against average this past regular season. He did not play his best in the first two games of the postseason, but there is a great chance he will bounce back later in these playoffs.
Back to the defense in front of Darling and Crawford: Let us now take some time to praise a guy who will go down as one of the 10 best athletes to ever call Chicago home. Duncan Keith is already a legend and he could well be only about halfway through his NHL career. He has already led the Hawks to two Stanley Cup championships and been a huge part of a pair of Canadian Olympic hockey gold medals. Individually, he has won two Norris Trophies given to the league's best defenseman in a given year.
And he started these playoffs with another legendary performance, logging 40 minutes of ice time (top players usually average between 15 and 20 in a given game) as the Hawks desperately held on during a Game 1 third period and a first overtime in which the Hawks had to scramble on numerous occasions to keep the score deadlocked. He capped that off with a perfectly placed point shot that became the game-winning goal.
Finally, Hawk fans will always remember Keith sacrificing all of his front teeth for the cause during the Hawks' first Stanley Cup playoff run. Keith took an opposing clearance attempt right in the middle of his mouth, sending multiple teeth flying. When doctors got a look at it, they realized Keith had lost seven front teeth all at once.
And when doctors finished looking at it, Keith went back into the game. Even for hockey, that was extreme.
So frequently, hockey playoff series are wars of attrition. It almost never fails that when star players struggle during the postseason, offseason examinations reveal significant injuries. Even if the Predators' Weber can return to action in Game 4 on Wednesday, it is clear he will be limited. It wouldn't be hockey if the Hawks didn't try to ruthlessly take advantage and make this a quick series.
Jim "Coach" Coffman is our man on Mondays. He welcomes your comments.
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