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.”

Hawks Talk Podcast: Crawford's return, Saad's demotion and power play concerns

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USA TODAY

Hawks Talk Podcast: Crawford's return, Saad's demotion and power play concerns

In the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle, Charlie Roumeliotis and Slavko Bekovic provide their thoughts on the Blackhawks’ 3-0-2 start.

They also discuss Brandon Saad’s demotion and whether it could serve as a wake-up call, Corey Crawford’s potential return on Thursday vs. Arizona and what could happen with Anton Forsberg because of it, and address the power play concerns.

The guys wrap up the podcast by making a few bold predictions going forward.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below, and be sure to subscribe, rate us and write a review!

10 years with 'Coach Q' anything but ordinary

10 years with 'Coach Q' anything but ordinary

Over the last 10 years, the words “ordinary” and "OK" have taken on a new meaning to Blackhawks players and fans alike. 

That’s “Coach Q” speak. 

A language where “ordinary” means awful and “just OK” means you were a non-factor. The good news is the last 10 seasons under Joel Quenneville have been anything but ordinary at the United Center. 

On Oct. 16th, 2008, the Blackhawks let go of fan-favorite Denis Savard after a 1-2-1 start to the season and named Quenneville as head coach in his place. Quenneville coached the Colorado Avalanche the previous season, but after another disappointing exit in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the two mutually parted ways. He had originally planned to stay away from the bench for at least a season, but the Blackhawks triumvirate of Rocky Wirtz, John McDonough and then-GM Dale Tallon brought Quenneville on as a scout and then handed him the keys to the car shortly after.

“Dale’s obligation is to put together a winning team,” said McDonough at Quenneville’s introductory press conference. “At this point, Joel is the coach of that team.”

It was an emotional day at the Blackhawks offices. Savard – a Blackhawks legend on the ice and a coach the players held in high regard – was let go just as things started to turn upwards for the organization. The end of the 2007-2008 season saw the Blackhawks once again miss out on the playoffs, but the fans began to flock to the United Center once more, and the hype train around the young team built around Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane was gaining steam.

“Moving forward, if we want to be a championship-caliber organization, we have to make tough decisions,” said Tallon. “This was the toughest decision I’ve ever had to make.” 

Savard was 65-66-16 in parts of three seasons as head coach of the Blackhawks. Meanwhile, Quenneville had compiled eight 95+ point seasons behind the bench for the Blues and Avalanche in his 11 years as a head coach.

“We felt the experience and the track record of Joel would be a balance that we needed with a young, inexperienced team,” said Tallon. "Joel brings us a wealth of experience and a winning track record that will have an immediate and lasting impact."

The gamble paid off for the Blackhawks in a major way. Once Quenneville took over, the team got to the sought-after next level. 

They finished the 08-09 season with 104 points, third-most in the NHL’s Western Conference, had a franchise-record setting 9-game win streak in the month of December and returned to the playoffs for the first time since the 2001-2002 season. The “young and inexperienced” Blackhawks took the league by storm, dropping the Calgary Flames in the first round of the playoffs in six games before taking down the rival Canucks in the next round.

They ultimately lost out to the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference Finals, but the bar was now set for the organization. From then on, the Blackhawks were Stanley Cup contenders. 

Quenneville currently ranks 2nd in franchise history with 449 wins, trailing only Billy Reay’s 516. 

But most importantly, Quenneville’s 76 playoff wins rank at the top in the organization’s long and storied history, and those three Stanley Cups that he’s raised over his head were anything but “ordinary.”