Blackhawks

Days as Blackhawks' fill-in prepped Scott Darling for role as Hurricanes' new No. 1

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USA TODAY

Days as Blackhawks' fill-in prepped Scott Darling for role as Hurricanes' new No. 1

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Scott Darling was used to dealing with the on-ice pressure from his time with the Blackhawks. From his stellar performance against the Nashville Predators in April 2015 to taking over when Corey Crawford had appendicitis last December, Darling showed he could handle a No. 1 goaltending job someday.

But for Darling, earning that status has been as much about the right attitude as the experience.

“I don’t know if the transition to starter was that tough. It’s always something I’ve been excited about and really enjoyed when I got the opportunity in Chicago if Crow was hurt or sick or something. It’s (more) the big life change, to move (somewhere) I’ve never really been other than to play the Hurricanes,” Darling said. “So that transition, it took a little bit and I’m finally comfortable.”

Darling had a few tough games but is getting back to form lately, giving up just two goals in his last two games. And he’ll start on Saturday night when the Hurricanes host the Blackhawks at PNC Arena. As of Friday, Darling is seventh in the league with a 2.35 goals-against average, and Carolina coach Bill Peters said Darling’s transition to starter has been “fairly seamless.”

“He’s playing really well for us,” Peters said. “It’s a good combination of our goaltenders. There’s a bit of a different style among the two (Darling and Cam Ward) and the things we’ve asked Scotty to work on, he’s done an excellent job. So I think he’s really trending in the right direction.”

Darling is one of six former Blackhawks on Carolina’s roster right now and having that many familiar faces has helped him get used to the new surroundings. On the ice, the Hurricanes have either struggled to score goals or have given up leads late. It’s led to some disappointing outcomes and players say Darling’s deserved a better fate in some of those games.

“We’ve played 13 games and we’ve had a chance to win them all. They’ve been close games. We know we can always trust him and he’s been playing great for us,” Marcus Kruger said of Darling. “Hopefully we can win a few more games here for him because he really deserves that.”

Carolina forward Jeff Skinner said Darling has had a calming influence on the Hurricanes.

“He’s big and steady, big and strong back there and settles everyone down. I think obviously when you add a player of his pedigree, especially in that position, it can settle guys down,” Skinner said. “We have a lot of young guys who have played a lot of minutes and played big roles on our back end, but having him back there has definitely been a positive.”

Asked about playing that settle-down role, Darling said, “I think it’s just they’ve been through some tough years here recently, and not just myself but having all of these new guys who have a winning pedigree the last couple of years and want to win and know how to win, it’s been good for the whole team and all the young guys. It’s just knowing what to say in the locker room, not getting flustered or giving up if we get down a goal or something like that.”

Darling’s biggest transition was off the ice, getting used to a new city and a new organization. Considering the on-ice situations he faced in the hopes of eventually getting a No. 1 goaltending job, the adjustment to that has been fairly smooth.

“It’s a new organization, new people, new bosses, learning how things work here. So that’s been a transition,” Darling said. “But on the ice it’s just hockey and I feel pretty comfortable.”

Patrick Kane hits milestone, but Blackhawks get blown out by Islanders

Patrick Kane hits milestone, but Blackhawks get blown out by Islanders

Probably not the way the Blackhawks wanted to start their second half of the season.

After a five-day break, the Blackhawks suffered a brutal 7-3 loss to the New York Islanders on Saturday night at the United Center. This coming after a 4-0 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on home ice last Sunday.

"It was a game we had to win," Quenneville said after Saturday's loss. "Disappointing in a lot of ways."

The Blackhawks needed both goaltenders to get through 60 minutes. Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass combined for 39 saves on 46 shots.

On the offensive side of things, Patrick Kane hit a milestone.

The 29-year-old had two goals and an assist and recorded his 800th career point, becoming the fifth player in franchise history to reach 800 points.

The Blackhawks are now 22-18-6 on the season with 50 points and rank last in the Central Division, five points behind the Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild.

The Blackhawks' schedule doesn't get any easier when the Tampa Bay Lightning — the league-leader in points — come to town on Monday.

See what Quenneville and Kane had to say about Saturday's loss in the video above.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks return to action against Islanders

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks return to action against Islanders

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the New York Islanders tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Erik Gustafsson's season debut.

The Blackhawks recalled one of their top defensive prospects on Jan. 9 but haven't been able to get him some game action yet. All signs point to that changing tonight.

He skated on a pairing with Brent Seabrook during Friday's practice, and was even placed on the second power play unit during special teams drills. Joel Quenneville was excited about the possibility of finally getting Gustafsson into the lineup.

"Good option, good opportunity," Quenneville said. "We’re not for sure but certainly he’s been around, he’s eager to go. I look forward to seeing what he can do."

2. Anthony Duclair's promotion.

He hasn't been in Chicago for very long but Duclair is quickly working his way up the lineup. The newly-acquired Blackhawk registered an assist in his team debut last Friday in a 2-1 victory over Winnipeg, and was put on a power play unit as well.

On Friday, Duclair was promoted to the top line with Brandon Saad and Jonathan Toews and continued getting reps on the second power-play unit. Let's see if the 22-year-old can take advantage of that opportunity in a top-six role.

3. Mathew Barzal.

Three rookies will be named finalists for the Calder Trophy at the end of the season. Barzal is a lock to be one of them.

He not only leads all rookies with 48 points, but he ranks 15th in the entire league in the scoring race and is the only first-year player averaging at least a point per game. 

The 20-year-old center has been sensational and he already has two five-point games in his young professional career. To put that into perspective, Patrick Kane recorded his first NHL five-point effort two weeks ago against the Ottawa Senators.