Scott Darling had been there and done this not too long ago, albeit not at this pace.
The Blackhawks’ backup goaltender started 11 consecutive games near the end of last season; as he recalled on Friday, “it wasn’t as condensed as this was, though.”
OK, so the 10 consecutive games he just completed wasn’t such a stretch. Still, it was a busy and rather successful stretch. So as a now-healthy Corey Crawford reclaims his net on Friday night against the Colorado Avalanche, the Blackhawks are grateful for the work Scott Darling did in Crawford’s absence.
“It reassures our team a whole heck of a lot. I think we’ve always known since Day 1, even a couple of years ago on our  Cup run, what Scotty did for us,” Jonathan Toews said. “We all know it’s a tough thing to just step in and play when you haven’t played in a while or often. To play the way he has is huge for our team especially going forward, knowing we have that depth. It goes with the same situations where we’ve missed guys like Duncs [Duncan Keith], Hoss [Marian Hossa], Seabs [Brent Seabrook], whoever, and the rest of the guys pick up the slack. Scott’s definitely been one of those key guys.”
Darling went 6-3-1 in his stint and the Blackhawks sit atop the Western Conference standings as the Christmas break approaches. For Darling, it wasn’t so much of a prove-something-to-yourself moment as it was enjoyable.
“It was just a lot of fun,” Darling said. “Obviously it was an unfortunate situation and happy Crow is back and healthy. But for me, I don’t get too much opportunity other than back to backs for me. It was huge for me to get some starts.”
The Blackhawks gained trust in Darling over the past two seasons, from when he first won the backup job and helped the team get through that first-round series against Nashville in 2015.
“We’ve had a lot of games and he’s really been stepping up,” Kruger said earlier this week. “He’s been playing more than every other day. That just tells you he can play a lot and be consistent. He’s been great.”
Normally, Crawford would get the bulk of the starts, injury or not. Now, considering how well Darling did in Crawford’s absence, coach Joel Quenneville admits he’ll think about how he splits goalie time the rest of the season. If nothing else, it keeps Crawford from getting worn down heading into any potential postseason work.
“It will get some discussion knowing that we’ll keep an eye on Corey. I think going into this season you anticipate him playing all the back to backs and getting more based on performance and gauging how Crow is handling it as well. I think that will come into the decision,” Quenneville said. “Certainly, [Darling] has enhanced how we view the opportunity, him getting a little bit more and making it tough when we’re making decisions on who’s in net.”
Darling doesn’t get sizeable workloads like that often, and he’s thrilled Crawford is back. Still, he enjoyed the opportunity. Considering how he did during it, that’s understandable.
“I have faith and confidence in my abilities. I think last year was more the first time taking the reins and playing that many games, I was a little bit more nervous,” Darling said. “But this year it was a lot of fun.”