Scott Darling takes the same approach, has the same mindset entering every game: he’s just thrilled to be here, thrilled to be getting the opportunities he’s earning.
He may have just earned himself another one.
Darling stopped 35 of 37 shots for his second victory of the postseason and Jonathan Toews had a goal and an assist as the Blackhawks beat the Nashville Predators, 4-2, in Game 3 of their first-round series on Sunday. The Blackhawks take a 2-1 lead in the series, with Game 4 scheduled for 8:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Andrew Desjardins, playing his first postseason game with the Blackhawks, scored his first postseason goal since April 12, 2012 (vs. St. Louis), when he was with the San Jose Sharks. Brandon Saad and Brent Seabrook also scored for the Blackhawks.
Darling, who relieved Corey Crawford in Game 1, got his first NHL postseason start on Sunday. He didn’t disappoint, coming up big when the Blackhawks needed him to do so.
So, does Darling earn the start in Game 4, too?
“We’ll talk about it but certainly he did everything he could to get himself back in the net,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “He was rock solid today. He did everything he could to get us a win and he was square, big and controlled a lot of pucks around the net as well.”
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Darling got word from goaltending coach Jimmy Waite on Saturday that he was starting this afternoon. He said he got nothing but support from Crawford.
“He was great,” Darling said. “We’re a good goalie tandem with our relationship. He was happy for me, very positive. It was good.”
Darling didn’t have much time to think or worry when he came into Game 1 in the second period. This time he had more than a day to think about it. But if he was nervous, it didn’t show in his play.
“It was a little bit nerve-wracking but exciting all at the same time,” said Darling. “It couldn’t have been a better game for the team to help me in my first playoff start.”
Still, there were some moments through the first period plus that made you wonder if the Blackhawks were going down a bad road again. Just 31 seconds after Desjardins scored to give the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead, Mike Ribeiro scored to tie it for the Predators. And just 22 seconds after Toews scored, Mattias Ekholm evened it at 2-2 for Nashville.
“Disappointing,” Quenneville said of those two quick Nashville goals. “One was off a faceoff, one was not the way we play. We make a turnover in the slot right after a play and that’s not what we’re looking to do. Coverage off the rush was positionally poor, the other off a faceoff and sometimes they go in. But that’s the way it is when we talk about key shifts, being first shifts after goals, last or first shifts off periods, a lot of important shifts. That can’t happen on those two.”
The Blackhawks settled down after Saad’s goal, however, with Darling making a big not long after that to keep the lead. The Blackhawks padded their edge later in the second period when, after a long sequence in the Predators’ zone, Seabrook’s shot trickled through Pekka Rinne.
Darling has shown poise, be it the regular- or postseason. It’s hard to imagine the Blackhawks won’t go with him again in Game 4. He’s happy to be here, and playing like he definitely belongs here.