Blackhawks

Scott Darling grateful for time with Blackhawks, 'super excited' about next chapter with Hurricanes

Scott Darling grateful for time with Blackhawks, 'super excited' about next chapter with Hurricanes

At the end of the season, Scott Darling said "it's going to be a long couple months waiting" to see how his situation as a pending unrestricted free agent plays out.

He didn't have to wait nearly as long as expected.

It took exactly a week to iron out a long-term extension with the Carolina Hurricanes, who traded for the former Blackhawks goaltender's negotiating rights for a 2017 third-round pick on April 28 and signed him to a four-year, $16.6 million contract Friday. 

And Darling is already looking forward to the next chapter.

"I was super excited when the trade happened," he said during a conference call with reporters Saturday. "My goal the whole time was to sign with Carolina. I'm really excited about the team that's there. I've heard nothing but great things. Once we worked out the contract part, it was a no-brainer."

The Hurricanes took a risk by acquiring the 28-year-old Lemont native, and not necessarily because they invested in a guy who's been a backup for the last three years. He has the tools to be a full-time starter, and they saw it first-hand when Darling stopped 39 of 40 shots against Carolina at the United Center in January.

"When you look at the size of Scott and at the body of work he's put in to this point, you get a sense of where you think he could be and what you think he can do," GM Ron Francis said. "I like the fact that he's big and competitive as hell. We feel he's ready for that opportunity and capable of succeeding."

The real gamble was that Darling could have easily passed on signing a deal so he could hit the market on July 1 to expand his pool of options. But he bought what Carolina was selling, and even chatted with former Chicago teammates Bryan Bickell and Joakim Nordstrom that helped reaffirm his positive beliefs about the organization.

"That kind of put my mind at ease," Darling said.

A large reason why Darling is as ready as possible to become an every day starter is because he had the opportunity to learn from two-time Stanley Cup champion Corey Crawford on a regular basis. Both netminders were instrumental in the Blackhawks' 2015 championship run, but Darling was able to share the ups and downs with Crawford throughout that journey and get a feel for how to overcome adverse situations.

"I think the last three years I learned a lot about the mental part of the game in watching Crow play every day and being lucky enough to study one of the best goalies in the world every single day and getting advice from him, teaching me how he goes about and thinks about goaltending," Darling said. "I learned a lot from him. The skills came along, too, but I think a lot of it was between the ears. I was lucky enough to learn from one of the best."

When Crawford missed three weeks in December due to an appendectomy, Darling was given the keys by starting all 10 games in 18 days. He went 6-3-1 and registered a .931 save percentage, including a shutout, during that stretch, expanding his sample size and further proving he's capable of handling the responsibilities of being a No. 1 goaltender.

More than anything, Darling is simply hungry to take on the challenge.

"I think I'm confident because I'm excited about it," Darling said. "I’m going to do everything in my power to learn how to be the best starter I can be. I have a good network of goalie friends and I’m going to be picking their brains and asking for help and do everything I can do to be successful.”

Wake-up call? Brandon Saad 'surprised' about possibility of being a healthy scratch

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AP

Wake-up call? Brandon Saad 'surprised' about possibility of being a healthy scratch

Brandon Saad played a majority of last season on the first line, started this season on the second to change things up, got demoted to the fourth by the fifth game, and could find himself out of the lineup in the sixth.

Before the Blackhawks hit the ice for practice on Monday, the 25-year-old winger found a white jersey hanging in his stall. That's usually reserved for players who are injured — Andreas Martinsen (back) was the only other player wearing one — or players who are on the outside looking in, which appears to be Saad right now considering he was not part of the four-line rotation.

"I don't think anyone wants to be wearing white around here," he said. "But it is what it is and there's nothing you can do but keep trying to improve. It's their job to make the call to put the best team out there to win hockey games."

Known for being even-keeled through the ups and downs, Saad expressed disappointment about the possibility of being a healthy scratch on Thursday against the Arizona Coyotes. He didn't exactly show that emotion following his demotion to the fourth line, perhaps out of respect to the players he was playing with by noting how it brings balance.

But he did on Monday, and it was the first time we've really seen some sort of emotion out of him.

"Everyone makes mistakes and things aren't always going to go your way but to be out of the lineup, a little surprised today," Saad said. "But it is what it is. ... No one wants to be out of the lineup. That's never fun regardless of who you are."

When asked to pinpoint what's gone wrong, Saad said he wasn't the right person to ask.

"I think you got to ask him that," he said, referring to Joel Quenneville and the coaching staff. "It's his calls. For me, you can talk pros and cons as much as you want but just trying to go out there and compete and win hockey games. We've won a few here, I know every game has gone to overtime so they've been close. Nothing was said to me about lineup change or anything like that. You just come in and you see your jersey and you go out there and you play."

So Quenneville was asked.

"Just expect more," he said. "That's the situation."

Is his mindset in the right place?

"I think he's fine," Quenneville said. "His mindset is what it is. Whether it's urgency or passion, coming up with loose pucks in those areas is going to be the difference."

The Blackhawks sending a message shouldn't only be directed at Saad. It also serves as a reminder to his teammates and is important to note for the younger guys about earning your ice time.

"I don't really know where the coaches are coming from so I'm not going to comment on that," Jonathan Toews said respectfully. "But [Saad] has been doing some good things and I think it's good for all of us to know what's going on there because if [Saad] can get his ice time taken away, then so can a lot of guys, myself included. So we all want to play well and have team success."

The Blackhawks need Saad to return to form quickly because he's crucial to their overall success. There's no debate about that. It's why the thought of Saad, who played in all 82 games last season, serving as the 13th forward is frustrating for everyone involved.

It hasn't been a problem in the past, but now it's becoming one because of the Blackhawks' aspirations of getting back to the playoffs and their dependence on their top players.

"I don’t think it’s an issue," Quenneville said. "We just expect more out of him."

Blackhawks make sports history with fifth straight overtime game to start season

Blackhawks make sports history with fifth straight overtime game to start season

The Blackhawks made sports history on Saturday after they appeared in their fifth straight overtime game to start the season.

No NHL team has done that since the league introduced a regular-season overtime period in 1983-84, per the Elias Sports Bureau. It also has never happened in the history of MLB, NBA or NFL, showing just how crazy this early season run has been for the Blackhawks, who have rallied from all five games and have come away with wins in three of them.

"We’ve had five games, every one of them have been extremely intense and the game’s been on the line from start to finish," coach Joel Quenneville said following a 4-3 overtime win over the St. Louis Blues. "Our group’s been competitive this year, the guys have been working hard for one another. I don’t know how many games we’ve been down in the third period, and coming back to win is special."

The Blackhawks appeared in 17 overtime/shootout games last season and won seven of them. They are one of six teams this season that have yet to pick up a regulation win.

On a separate note, Saturday marked the eighth time in Blackhawks history that one player scored a tying goal in the third period and scored in overtime (Alex DeBrincat), according to the NHL's PR department. It's the second time it's happened this year for the Blackhawks, with Jonathan Toews the other on Oct. 6 against St. Louis.