ST. LOUIS – The Blackhawks have relied heavily on their goaltending throughout the season, Corey Crawford for most of it but Scott Darling lately. When offense was sputtering, goaltending was allowing few goals.
But on Saturday night Darling admittedly he wasn’t at his best. So for the second consecutive game, the Blackhawks’ offense did its part to support its goalie.
Artemi Panarin had a goal and two assists and Vinnie Hinostroza scored the game-winning goal as the Blackhawks came back to beat the St. Louis Blues 6-4. The Blackhawks stay atop the Western Conference with 46 points; they have a six-point lead over Minnesota and an eight-point lead on the Blues.
The Blackhawks could be down a forward again, however, as Artem Anisimov suffered an upper-body injury in the first period and did not return. Coach Joel Quenneville listed Anisimov as day-to-day; he wasn’t sure if Anisimov would play against the San Jose Sharks on Sunday night.
Dennis Rasmussen, Brian Campbell and Niklas Hjalmarsson also scored for the Blackhawks, who tallied three third-period goals to overcome the 4-3 deficit they faced after 40 minutes. Panarin’s goal was an empty netter with 49 seconds left in regulation. Patrick Kane scored his first goal since Nov. 26.
Darling, who played in his eighth game since Dec. 3, may be feeling signs of fatigue. He was just unlucky on the second goal, when Kyle Brodziak’s shot hit a broken stick. But Darling knows he wasn’t at his best but he said he’s not tired.
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“I mean when you play this much, just like any goalie, there’s going to be some games where you have some bad bounces or bad luck. You’re not going to have shutouts every game. You just have to roll with it and be happy and grateful that we won,” Darling said. “Put it in the rearview mirror and get ready for the next one.”
Whether that next one is Sunday against the Sharks remains to be seen. Quenneville, who sees the workload likely affecting Darling, said the Blackhawks will discuss who starts that game. Backup Lars Johansson was recalled on Dec. 4 but has yet to play in an NHL game.
But as Darling said, he had a good support system on Sunday. The Blackhawks offense is waking up, scoring 11 goals in its past two games.
Hjalmarsson’s fourth of the season came one minute into the third period, tying the game at 4-4. Then Hinostroza put a pretty backhand shot past Jake Allen for a lead the Blackhawks wouldn’t relinquish.
“I was just trying to screen the goalie, [Marian Hossa] passed it up to [Brent Seabrook] and I was trying to screen the goalie. There was a rebound at my feet. I just tried to kick it to my stick and shot to an open net. it was exciting,” said Hinostroza of his goal, his first NHL game winner. “It definitely feels good. It’s been a while since I scored last but I feel like I’ve been getting a lot of chances, so good to see one hit the back of the net.”
The Blackhawks ran the gamut on this road trip. They beat the New York Rangers with great goaltending and defense. They gave up plenty against the New York Islanders and Blues but still won. The Blackhawks goaltending has come up big through most of this season. Every now and then, Crawford or Darling is going to have off nights. On Saturday, Darling got the goal-scoring support to get through a tough one.
“A couple bad luck, but some bad goals, too. I have to be better than that and you know it’s nice when you don’t have a good game and somehow still get the win,” Darling said. “The guys played great and really picked me up out there. That’s huge.”