NEW YORK – Being comfortable. It’s usually a good thing.
For a backup goaltender, however, it’s not always easy to be comfortable. It’s just part of the job to be constantly waiting, constantly wondering when you’ll play. But for Scott Darling, comfort is about how he’s fitting into this Blackhawks team. This season, his second full one with the Blackhawks, he’s felt as comfortable as ever. And in taking over during Corey Crawford’s injury absence, Darling has looked every bit of that.
Darling stopped 33 of 34 saves and Artem Anisimov scored his 13th goal of the season as the Blackhawks beat the New York Rangers 2-1 on Tuesday night. The Blackhawks remain atop the Western Conference with 42 points.
The Blackhawks were near full strength again, as Jonathan Toews (back) returned after missing nine games and Brent Seabrook (upper body) returned after missing two. Toews logged just over 18 minutes of ice time while Seabrook played nearly 24 minutes.
Trevor van Riemsdyk scored his first goal of the season. Anisimov added an assist to go with his goal, which was his sixth game winner of the season. That leads the Blackhawks and it’s also a new season best for Anisimov; he had five game-winning goals with the Columbus Blue Jackets during the 2013-14 season. Artemi Panarin had two assists.
But in the end it was once again Darling, who was stellar. Five days after he and former teammate Antti Raanta had a tremendous goaltending duel in Chicago – Raanta got the 1-0 overtime shutout victory – Tuesday was all Darling. He was strong in the second period when the Blackhawks were outshot 16-7 and was key down the stretch when the Rangers were going for the equalizer.
Darling talked about where he is with the Blackhawks now.
“A lot of it is just being comfortable,” Darling said. “Last year was my first full year, I was still nervous about my role, my position with a new organization. Coming back now I’m not one of the new guys. I’ve been here 2 ½ years. You’re comfortable. You’re friends with everybody. It’s nice to be comfortable.”
The Blackhawks, in turn, are as comfortable with Darling in net as they are with Crawford. Darling is 3-2-1 in Crawford’s absence. He’s allowed just three goals in his past four starts.
“He’s absolutely amazing,” Anisimov said. “He played great for us in the net. He makes huge saves in the key time. We try to help him. Amazing right now.”
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Raanta had two consecutive shutouts entering this one. Van Riemsdyk broke that streak when he scored 5:18 into the second period.
“Yeah, it was pretty special,” van Riemsdyk said. “I grew up watching a lot of Rangers game. We got Rangers tickets for Christmas every year, we used to have to pick a game. I don’t score too many but to score one here is pretty special.”
Jesper Fast got one past Darling about three minutes later but Anisimov scored his, off a great pass from Brian Campbell, with 1:09 remaining in the second period.
“Of course, it’s my first team in the NHL and I made [my] debut here,” Anisimov said of the Rangers. “And it’s special feeling, especially when I score here.”
Whether hurt or healed, the Blackhawks keep collecting points. They’ve done it most of the time with goaltending and Tuesday was no exception. Darling was good during his rookie year, despite being nervous about his place on this team. Now he’s comfortable, and the results show it.
“No matter what night it is or against any opponent, we’re comfortable with how we play in front of him. He gives us a chance to win,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Darls gives you that same type of approach [like Crawford]. He gives us confidence and plays with confidence as well.”