Blackhawks

The year of the backup goalie: Darling one of many in NHL

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The year of the backup goalie: Darling one of many in NHL

Once upon a September, a journeyman goaltender surprised all out of Blackhawks training camp.

First he earned praise and future consideration. Then he earned a few goaltending starts when the starter was hurt, then the backup job. And now, Scott Darling is the starting goaltender for the playoffs.

The happily-ever-after portion of this tale has yet to be written but even now, it’s one hell of a story. And it seems to be one that’s being told by a few NHL squads this season.

“It might be the year of the backup goalie this year,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Somebody you’ve never heard of may get an opportunity and all of a sudden is a key guy. We all know the importance of the goalie and how the guy who is playing well is getting that net. Sometimes it’s competitive with internal competition but at the same time the rapport is excellent [with the normal starter] and it’s a healthy situation to be in.”

[MORE: Blackhawks win triple-OT thriller over Predators in Game 4]

Indeed, Darling is one of several goaltenders that either (A) came out of nowhere to earn critical games at critical times or (B) started in the backup role and is now starting in the playoffs. Here’s a quick look at some of the others who have played a big part in their respective team’s success, and how they’re faring now.

Andrew Hammond

Hammond had a whole one game’s worth of work with the Ottawa Senators last season. But when the Senators’ goaltending corps was hit with injuries, Hammond got an opportunity. He was tremendous in his regular-season stint, going an astounding 20-1-2 as the Senators went from foregone conclusion to playoff bound. Hammond stumbled in the postseason and was replaced by previous starter Craig Anderson. Still, he was a huge part in the Senators even getting there in the first place.

Jake Allen

Allen had just 15 games with the St. Louis Blues back in the 2012-13 season before playing with the Blues’ AHL affiliate Chicago Wolves last season. This year he split time with Brian Elliott but started getting more starts down the stretch. He performed well, going 4-1-1 in his last six regular-season starts and earning the starting job for the postseason.

Eddie Lack

The Vancouver Canucks signed Ryan Miller in the offseason but Lack became the guy after Miller suffered a leg injury in late February. Even when Miller returned, Lack was better goaltender, and he went 4-2-0 in his final six regular-season appearances. Based on Lack’s work in Miller’s absence, he earned the starting job when the Canucks begin their first-round series against the Calgary Flames. The success hasn’t been there against Calgary for Lack, who was replaced by Miller in Game 4.

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Devan Dubnyk

OK, Dubnyk of the Minnesota Wild is different from some of the others in that he had plenty of experience. Still, his numbers were mediocre throughout his career and he was playing for the Hamilton Bulldogs(Montreal’s AHL affiliate) in 2013-14. When the Wild traded for him in January, it didn’t draw much notice. The Wild were in a tailspin and the thought of it making the postseason was, well, nobody thought the Wild would make the postseason. Shows how much we all knew: Dubnyk was tremendous with the Wild, going 27-9-2 in the regular season as the Wild nearly usurped the Blackhawks for the No. 3 seed in the Central Division.

Perhaps it is the season for the surprise goaltender. There have certainly been several surprises at a position that’s usually much more set at this time of year. Credit depth. Credit second chances.

Credit the backup goalies for taking advantage of opportunities.

“Our situation was kind of… it just happened. It wasn’t in the cards,” Quenneville said. “It turns out Scott has the ball and he’s doing a good job with it.”

Jonathan Toews leading the way for bounce-back Blackhawks

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USA Today

Jonathan Toews leading the way for bounce-back Blackhawks

Patrick Kane is the one a hair away from 1,000 career points, but Saturday night it seemed liked Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews was the one hungry for a major milestone. 

Toews sits at 798 career points after a four-point outing (two goals, two assists) in the Hawks' 6-2 win in Toronto over the Maple Leafs, giving Chicago their fourth straight win and a perfect three-game road trip through Eastern Canada with the first two wins coming against the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens. 

After a mostly up-and-down season, the Hawks are now three games above .500 (23-20-6) and four points out of a Wild Card spot with two games at home (Sunday and Tuesday) before heading to the All-Star break. 

"We take it one game at a time and I think we're doing a great job of focusing on the task at hand and whatever situation we find ourselves in, we're playing good hockey," Toews said. "It's fun. I think we're playing a complete game right now. We're showing each other what our potential really is if we play the right way and we're getting the results for our hard work."

The Blackhawks captain has 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in a five-game point streak. After a slow start to the season, the 2010 Conn Smythe trophy winner is performing beyond a point-a-game pace since Nov. 2. 

Toews scored five-hole on Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen at 5:32 of the first period, then scored on a wraparound at 3:19 of the second. He later assisted on Dominik Kubalik's goal to put the Hawks up 5-1 at 10:58 of the second and set up Kubalik's marker at 17:42 of the second to give Chicago a 6-2 lead and the final score.

"Not a whole lot of leads you feel comfortable with against this team," Toews said following the contest. "They're pretty explosive offensively, so I think all five guys were pretty cognizant of who you're playing against and just making sure we're trying to frustrate them, take away their ability to create and our offense kind of came from that."

The captain's assist on Kubalik's second goal of the game was one of the most impressive plays of the season across the league. Toews backhanded the puck towards the net from the right wall and Kubalik hit it in cleanly with his blade in mid-air in front of the net past Andersen.

"I (thought) it was maybe a foot or two lower, like on the ice," Toews said of his impressive pass from the boards. "It was probably more my intention, but just kind of floated one in there and as they say, you can't give a good player a bad pass, I tried my best on that one and he still found a way to get a stick on it."

Toews seems to have Andersen's number. He's scored 10 goals on the goalie in his career, including five during the regular season and five across seven days in the 2015 Western Conference final.

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3 Takeaways: Jonathan Toews grabs 4 points, Blackhawks grab 4-straight wins

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USA Today

3 Takeaways: Jonathan Toews grabs 4 points, Blackhawks grab 4-straight wins

Here are some takeaways from the Blackhawks fourth-straight win as Patrick Kane continues his quest for 1K:

Streaking Hawks

The Blackhawks won their fourth straight game on Saturday in Toronto 6-2. The victory gave the Hawks a perfect three-game sweep to close out their road trip in Eastern Canada. 

The Hawks won 3-2 against the Senators in Ottawa on Tuesday and 4-1 over the Canadiens in Montreal on Wednesday. 

Chicago is now three games over .500 (23-20-6) and four points out of a Wild Card spot. 

Drake Caggiula scored 21 seconds in to set the tone and put the Hawks ahead 1-0 with a trick shot, bouncing the puck over goalie Frederik Andersen's back, from behind the goal line and later picked up an assist. Caggiula has points in two straight after grabbing a goal and an assist in Montreal.

His energy and buzz around the net has been incredibly noticeable and something that's given Chicago a lift during the streak and since he returned from a concussion five games ago. 

The Blackhawks play the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday and the Florida Panthers on Tuesday (Q!!!!), both at the United Center before the All-Star break. 

Saad returns

Blackhawks forward Brandon Saad returned to the lineup after being sidelined since Dec. 19 with a right-ankle injury. The Hawks were missing the winger who can be effective anywhere in the lineup and was one of the most consistently good players on the team prior to his injury.

Saad was given a big opportunity on Saturday, being thrown on the left wing of the Hawks' second line with Ryan Carpenter centering and Patrick Kane on the right. 

Saad had 19 points (11 goals, eight assists) in 36 games with the Hawks this season before being injured. On Saturday, he scored at 11:02 of the first period, putting the Hawks up 3-0 and giving Kane, who assisted on the goal, career point No. 999.

Johnny be good

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews kept up his stellar play of late and extended his point streak to five games, grabbing four points in Toronto. 

Toews scored five-hole on Andersen at 5:32 of the first period, then scored on a wraparound at 3:19 of the second. He later assisted on Dominik Kubalik's goal to put the Hawks up 5-1 at 10:58 of the second.

Toews also set up Kubalik's marker at 17:42 of the second to give Chicago a 6-2 lead, backhanding the puck towards the net from the right wall to Kubalik, who hit it in cleanly with his blade in mid-air past Andersen.

Toews has 12 points (four goals, eight assists) during his streak. 

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Blackhawks games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.