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.”

Gustav Forsling showing improvement in his second season with Blackhawks

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USA TODAY

Gustav Forsling showing improvement in his second season with Blackhawks

On two consecutive Saturday evenings the Blackhawks were looking for a little more offense. On two consecutive Saturday evenings they got some from Gustav Forsling, whose shots got through to either tie a game (vs. Carolina) or take a lead (vs. Pittsburgh).

Forsling isn’t the big go-to guy when it comes to points but he’s nevertheless getting them for a Blackhawks team that’s starting to find its offense again. But this is more about Forsling’s overall game which, not long after he made the Blackhawks roster last fall, plateaued. This season he’s been more consistent and more confident from the start, and he and Jan Rutta have formed a pair that coach Joel Quenneville trusts and has kept together for most of this season. The 21-year-old defenseman talked of working on the mental side of his game entering this season and said he feels the difference.

“I’ve been working on it this summer and I feel a little bit better,” he said. “[Just] more confident with the puck and confident in myself and pretty much everywhere.”

Quenneville has seen the difference.

“I think he’s getting better with his reads,” Quenneville said. “He’s got a better gap. [Being] quicker all over the ice is part of that and nice to see him pound one that goes through because his shot can be a lot heavier than it’s been and we want him to use it a little bit more, too.”

Forsling says he feels comfortable playing with any of the Blackhawks’ defensemen but there’s no doubt he and Rutta have been good together. The two clicked immediately, and at times they’ve been the Blackhawks’ second pair.

“I think we’re thinking the same way out there on the ice. We have a great conversation out there and everything’s worked out fine,” Forsling said. “He’s a funny guy and we get along well.”

Forsling’s offensive contributions are welcomed but so is his defense. When the Rangers were looking for the game-tying goal late in the third period on Wednesday, Forsling was on Corey Crawford’s left side to prevent David Desharnais from scoring it. Seventy-six seconds later, Artem Anisimov’s goal gave the Blackhawks a two-goal lead.

“Great play by him,” Crawford said. “For us, we want to cover the short side there and it’s great or him to get over quick and get his stick there. Definitely a great stop by him.”

Forsling’s playing with more confidence. He’s added a little early offense. The Blackhawks wanted Forsling to reach another level this season and so far, he’s doing that.

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 2-1 win over Penguins: Power play becoming a strength?

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 2-1 win over Penguins: Power play becoming a strength?

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks’ 2-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night:
 
1. That's how you start a game.

The Blackhawks haven't had the best of starts over the last couple weeks or so — aside from their recent four-goal first period against New Jersey. But they flew out of the gates in Pittsburgh.

Chicago recorded 27 shot attempts (11 on goal) in the opening frame compared to Pittsburgh's 13 attempts (nine on goal), and led in the even-strength scoring chances department 11-2.

Two of those chances were breakaways from Nick Schmaltz and Jonathan Toews, but both were denied by Matt Murray. The Blackhawks cashed in on one of two power play opportunities, however, and took a 1-0 lead into the second.

2. Power play strikes again.

Speaking of power plays, the Blackhawks came up empty on their first one of the game, but they were handed another one 44 seconds later at the midway mark of the first and capitalized when Gustav Forsling slipped one five-hole past Murray. 

It's the third consecutive game the Blackhawks have scored on the man advantage, something they hadn't done since Oct. 7-12 when they scored in four straight. It's also the second consecutive game the power play unit netted the game winner.

The Blackhawks are 5-for-13 (38.5 percent) on the power play in their last three games after going 5-for-53 (9.4 percent) in their previous 12. 

3. Should Blackhawks have pushed back immediately following Corey Crawford injury?

A scary moment occurred in the second period when Evgeni Malkin swiped Crawford in the mask while racing for a loose puck, forcing the Blackhawks netminder to exit before returning a few minutes later.

Malkin was given a two-minute minor penalty for goaltender interference, but should the Blackhawks have stood up for Crawford at the expense of getting tagged with a penalty themselves?

No question a power play opportunity with a chance to make it a two-goal game at that stage of the game — and against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions who hadn't lost in regulation at home this season going into the matchup —  is important, but the Blackhawks' lack of retaliation was a bit surpising. 

It wasn't a dirty play by Malkin by any means, but there's a principle involved when your goaltender gets hit like that. Those are the kinds of penalties you shouldn't mind taking, and at the very worst it would've been 4-on-4 hockey with one of Pittsburgh's best forwards in the box.

4. Artem Anisimov stays hot.

The goals keep coming for No. 15.

After the Penguins tied it up at 1-1 in the third period with a shorthanded goal, Anisimov scored 21 seconds later on the power play to put the Blackhawks back in front 2-1.

Anisimov now has nine goals in his last 10 games after scoring just one goal in his first 10 to start the season. He also has four game-winning goals on the season, all of which have come this month. Brandon Saad leads the NHL with five.

5. Alex DeBrincat extends point streak.

Lost in the shuffle was the Blackhawks' top rookie getting on the scoresheet once again.

With an assist on Forsling's power play goal in the first period, DeBrincat extended his point streak to four games. He has four goals and two assists in that span, and is averaging a point per game over his last nine (six goals and three assists).

DeBrincat also moved into a three-way tie with Richard Panik and Toews for second on the team with 13 points.