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.”

Former Blackhawks goalie Ray Emery dies in early morning drowning

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AP

Former Blackhawks goalie Ray Emery dies in early morning drowning

Former Blackhawks goaltender Ray Emery was identified as the victim in an early morning drowning on Sunday at the Hamilton Harbour, Hamilton Police confirmed. He was 35.

According to the Hamilton Spectator, Emery and his friends jumped in the water around 6:30 a.m., but Emery never resurfaced. His body was recovered later in the afternoon.

Emery played in the NHL for 11 seasons, two of which came with the Blackhawks from 2011-13, where he served as a backup goaltender to Corey Crawford.

In 2013, he teammated up with Crawford to win the William M. Jennings Trophy, awarded to the goaltender(s) with the fewest goals against in a single season, before going on to capture his first Stanley Cup. During that season, Emery went 17-1-0 with a 1.94 goals against average, .922 save percentage and three shutouts.

The hockey community took to Twitter to offer their condolences when news began to spread:

Thank you, Marian Hossa: An ode to one of the best Blackhawks ever

Thank you, Marian Hossa: An ode to one of the best Blackhawks ever

When the Blackhawks drafted Jonathan Toews third overall in 2006 and Patrick Kane with the No. 1 pick the following year, it was a sign that the dark skies were clearing in Chicago. Things really started to change when Rocky Wirtz took over as chairman following the death of his father Bill in September of 2007, and one of the first decisions he made was to televise all 82 games.

The fans were coming back.

For only the second time in 11 years, the Blackhawks finished above .500 in 2007-08 but missed the playoffs by three points, a season in which Kane won the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie.

The following year Joel Quenneville took over as head coach after only three games to provide some coaching experience behind the bench for a young team on the rise. It resulted in a 104-point season and ended in a Conference Finals berth at the hands of the arch-rival Detroit Red Wings in five games.

The Blackhawks were ready to make that step into championship contenders. They just needed someone to put them over the edge.

Enter Marian Hossa.

On July 1 of 2009, he committed to the Blackhawks for 12 years worth $62.8 million. He bought into the long-term vision and wanted to be a part of something special for many years to come.

Was he ever.

In his first game as a member of the Blackhawks, Hossa scored two goals in a 7-2 road victory against San Jose after missing the first month and a half of the season with a shoulder injury. It was at that moment where you saw what kind of powerhouse the Blackhawks could be and would become with a full lineup and future Hall of Fame winger added to a mixture of franchise-changing players scratching the surface.

Fast forward to Game 5 of the 2010 quarterfinals. You know how it goes. Series is tied 2-2. The Blackhawks trail 4-3 late in the third period. Extra attacker is on. How many times have we seen this? The Blackhawks were surely going to find a way to tie it up ... and then Hossa is sent to the box with 1:03 to play in regulation. A five-minute major boarding penalty.

Dagger...

Not so fast. 

Patrick Kane went on to score arguably the biggest goal in Blackhawks history, a shorthanded one that evened it up with 13.6 seconds to go. United Center is up for grabs. But there are still four minutes left to kill off on the penalty once overtime starts, which Hossa once called "the longest four minutes of my life." 

In a span of nine seconds following the penalty kill, Hossa jumped on the ice from the box, darted straight for the net and buried home what was the second-biggest goal in franchise history to put the Blackhawks up 3-2 in the series. Two nights later Hossa assisted on three goals and the Blackhawks eliminated the Nashville Predators in their barn.

The rest is history.

Who knows if the Blackhawks rally to win that series if they don't tie it up or win it in overtime. Who knows if they break through the next year. Who knows if that core group even remains together. The course of the franchise could've changed that night.

Instead, Hossa was handed the Stanley Cup for the first time in his career on June 9, 2010 from Jonathan Toews, who couldn't give it to him fast enough after he came up on the losing end in consecutive appearances with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings in 2008 and 2009.

Hossa would add two more titles to his résumé with the Blackhawks in 2013 and 2015, which almost certainly locked up his legacy as one of the all-time greats and his eventual next stop: The Hockey Hall of Fame. The wait was worth it.

"I was hoping to get one coming to Chicago and now I’ve got three," Hossa said following the 2015 Stanley Cup win. "What a feeling." 

The Blackhawks don't win three Stanley Cups without Hossa, who will go down as arguably the greatest free-agent signing in Chicago sports history.

On behalf of the city of Chicago: Thank you, 81.