Blackhawks

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

Blackhawks

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.”

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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.”