Blackhawks

Backup goalie Scott Darling is gaining confidence with Blackhawks

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Backup goalie Scott Darling is gaining confidence with Blackhawks

Scott Darling wishes it wouldn’t have to be this way.

The Blackhawks backup goaltender is like anyone else: he wants to play. He’s getting those starts now due to Corey Crawford’s upper-body injury, which has sidelined the Blackhawks’ starter since last week.

“Obviously I wish it were different circumstances. We don’t want Corey to be hurt; we miss him for sure,” Darling said following Sunday’s game. “But I’m happy to be playing. It’s good for me to get a little momentum going. Even though I’m 1-1-1, I feel like I’ve played pretty well. It’s good going forward that I’ll have this experience.”

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The life of a backup goaltender means taking advantage of every opportunity you get, and Darling is doing that right now. He could be doing that again on Tuesday, when the Blackhawks host the Central Division-leading Dallas Stars at the United Center. As of Sunday, coach Joel Quenneville said there was no change with Crawford’s status.

But Darling’s recent starts – a 28-save shutout vs. Winnipeg and a shootout loss vs. the Wild in which he stopped 32 of 34 shots – have helped the Blackhawks gain some points. They’ve also helped Darling’s confidence.

“Yeah, I thought he was very patient, had quick movement,” Quenneville said. “[The Wild] had some quick sticks around the net and coverage around loose stuff in front of our net was a little dangerous. But it’s good for him and nice to see the response.”

Darling got an opportunity the same way last season when Crawford was sidelined with a lower-body injury in December 2014. At that time, Darling won three of four starts, earning the trust of the Blackhawks coaches and eventually earning the backup job.

Darling had his up-and-down moments this season, but he’s been better in his recent stint. Having two goaltenders the Blackhawks can rely upon gives them the chance to concentrate on other parts of their game.

“At the end of the day, our goaltenders have been great. It goes back to just focusing on things like our penalty kill and defensive play and helping them out as much as we can,” Jonathan Toews said. “It always gives you confidence if you can have two guys who can jump in and help your team. Crow is needing some time off, Scotty can step in and we still feel that depth and security back there.”

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When you’re the backup goaltender to a workhorse, it’s tough to get a lot of starts. But with Crawford sidelined the Blackhawks have needed Darling’s help. So far, he’s supplied that.

“I mean it’s tough to be a backup goalie. Corey’s played so well and has been so hot all year. Darls hasn’t had many starts but when he has, he’s been good for us,” Andrew Shaw said. “His confidence is up. He’s practicing hard, competing out there, and he’ll use that in games as well.”

How Blackhawks plan to handle Corey Crawford's workload

How Blackhawks plan to handle Corey Crawford's workload

Corey Crawford is back and it didn't look like he skipped much of a beat. The Blackhawks were handed their first regulation loss of the season to the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday, but the 33-year-old netminder stopped 27 of 30 shots (.900 save percentage) in his season debut and made several timely saves to keep his team in it.

In the larger picture, it was a win based on how well Crawford looked between the pipes.

"Yeah, I think it is," coach Joel Quenneville said after practice on Friday. "It's one of things we were wondering, how he would handle post-game and how he came in today. Very encouraging signs. He felt good in all aspects of what he went through and dealt with, and practiced well today too, so that was good."

The first one is in the books.

But what's the plan going forward? Will Crawford be on a "pitch count" or will they treat him like they have in past seasons when he was healthy?

In the past, Crawford has generally started somewhere in between 55-58 games per season. Part of that has been because of injuries. Another part is the Blackhawks have had reliable backups, which allowed them to give Crawford an extra night off here and there to keep him fresh.

It's not unreasonable, though, to think Crawford could flirt with 50 starts, considering he missed only five games to start the season. And they can still accomplish that by playing it safe.

The Blackhawks have 13 more back-to-backs this season, which gives them the opportunity to start Cam Ward at some point in each of them. That leaves room for another 15 or so starts to sprinkle in for Ward that could serve as rest days for Crawford and still being on track to start around 50.

Obviously, the Blackhawks want to be careful with how much they ask of Crawford because concussions are tricky to deal with and every player responds differently to it.

His return comes at a time where the Blackhawks are slated to play seven games in 11 days after playing just two in the previous 10. Thursday marked the start of that stretch.

"He’ll tell us how he feels and we’ll go from there and make those decisions," Quenneville said.

The Blackhawks have been on record saying they prefer not to carry three goaltenders. But in this case it makes sense. At least in the short term.

Quenneville said Friday that the Blackhawks will reevaluate the situation at the end of the weekend following the beginning of a busy stretch where they'll play three games in four days.

"Yeah, that’s the mindset," he said. "Let’s see how we handle these three in four and then we’ll address it."

Crawford is expected to start on Saturday in Columbus, making it his second start in three days. That's when they'll get a better sense of how he's handling things.

If it were up to him, Crawford said he feels he's prepared for it.

"Yeah, sure," Crawford said. "Why not? I've been working hard with [strength and conditioning coach Paul Goodman]. He's got me where I need to be, so I'm in shape right now. Why not?"

Hawks Talk Podcast: Thoughts on Corey Crawford's season debut

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USA TODAY

Hawks Talk Podcast: Thoughts on Corey Crawford's season debut

In the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle, Jamal Mayers and Charlie Roumeliotis recap Corey Crawford’s season debut after missing nearly 10 months with a concussion.

Mayers talks about the Kitty system that Niklas Hjalmarsson and Vinnie Hinostroza probably dealt with in their returns to Chicago.

The guys also discuss what’s next for Crawford, the upcoming matchup against Artemi Panarin and the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the Blackhawks’ biggest areas for improvement.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below, and be sure to subscribe, rate us and write a review!