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.”

Calvin de Haan on unexpected trade to Blackhawks and what he brings to the table

Calvin de Haan on unexpected trade to Blackhawks and what he brings to the table

Calvin de Haan knew that the Carolina Hurricanes had a logjam on defense going into this summer and that somebody was going to be dealt to create a spot. The move was also driven by financial reasons as the Hurricanes look to re-sign a handful of players, most notably Sebastian Aho.

He just wasn't expecting it to be his name on the move.

"I'm still kind of in shock, to be honest," de Haan said on Tuesday's conference call. "I didn’t think it was going to be me. After Carolina signed me last summer my fiancée and I thought we were going to have some roots there, but I get it, it’s a business. Looking back on it now, it’s only been 16 hours or whatever, but it’s been a whirlwind. I’m really looking forward to it now. Obviously Stan [Bowman] and the Blackhawks made a deal for me and I feel like I’m wanted and I’m really looking forward to this opportunity with this organization."

De Haan, who signed a four-year, $18.2 million contract with Carolina last offseason, admitted that the Blackhawks didn't show any interest in him when he was an unrestricted free agent. But he's excited about being in an organization that values his services, and the feeling is mutual because he's filling an immediate need on the back end for the Blackhawks: a player who can log big minutes, is a sound stay-at-home defenseman and can play an effective role on the penalty kill.

Jeremy Colliton, who was the captain for the AHL's Bridgeport Sound Tigers during de Haan's rookie season in the pros from 2011-12, will certainly appreciate what his former teammate brings to the table.

"I just like to think my position’s good," de Haan said of his game. "I like to think I move well on the ice. I’ve always tried to play a simple game. I saw some tweets yesterday that I might be the next best thing to Nik Hjalmarsson that the Blackhawks have had in a while, so that’s a compliment. That guy’s had a great career and that’s a player I like to play like. Nothing flashy, just kind of get the job done and I hope Blackhawk fans will really appreciate my game. It’s something I’m really looking forward to this season."  

De Haan underwent season-ending shoulder surgery in May — exactly five weeks from Tuesday — and was given a four-to-six month timeline, putting his availability for training camp and the season opener in jeopardy. But he's hoping to be cleared by the time training camp rolls around in September and be ready to go for the season opener on Oct. 4 in Prague.

"Things are progressing well," de Haan said. "I like to think I’m ahead of schedule. I’ve had shoulder surgeries in the past as well where I know how this goes and I’m gonna make sure I’m ready for camp. Then it’s going to be up to the training staff and the doctors whether they want me to play or take a few weeks here and there and just progress slowly. But my main goal is to be ready for camp. I don’t want to sit on the sidelines. I want to be on the ice with the guys and out there grinding away and try to get the team back in the playoffs."

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Blackhawks release 2019-20 schedule: Notes and five games to circle

Blackhawks release 2019-20 schedule: Notes and five games to circle

The Stanley Cup Final is over. The NHL Draft is in the books. Free agency still looms, but Chicago can officially start looking ahead to next season.

The Blackhawks, in conjunction with the rest of the league, released their 2019-20 schedule on Tuesday so it's time to get out the sharpie and mark your calendars. 

Some quick notes:

— The Blackhawks' longest homestand of the season is seven games, from Oct. 10-24. They also have a five-game homestand from March 22-31.

— The longest road trip of the season is five games, from Feb. 9-16. They also have two four-game road trips from Oct. 29-Nov. 5 and Feb. 23-Feb. 29.

— The Blackhawks have 16 back-to-back games. They had 14 last season.

— Single-game tickets for the team's regular-season home games will go on sale Tuesday, Aug. 20 at 12 p.m. on blackhawks.com. The Blackhawks are currently accepting deposits for groups, 21-Game Mikita Plans and 9-Game Hull Plans. Any fans interested can visit blackhawks.com/tickets or call 312-455-7000.

— NBC Sports Chicago is now the exclusive carrier for all local game broadcasts. The complete broadcast schedule will be announced at a later date.

Here are five dates to circle for the 2019-20 season, in order of how they appear on the schedule:

1. Friday, Oct. 4 at Philadelphia, 1 p.m. — Season opener in Prague

As part of the 2019 NHL Global Series, the Blackhawks play an exhibition game in Berlin on Sept. 29 before heading to Prague, where they will kick off the regular season against the Philadelphia Flyers. It's the first time the Blackhawks are beginning a season overseas since the 2009-10 campaign when they were in Helsinki, Finland. They went on to win the Stanley Cup that season.

2. Thursday, Oct. 10 vs. San Jose, 7:30 p.m. — Home opener

After a five-day break to get reacclimated to the North American time zone, the Blackhawks will take the ice at the United Center for the first time against the Erik Karlsson-led Sharks on Oct. 10. The Blackhawks are 5-2-1 in their last eight home openers.

3. Monday, Dec. 2 vs. St. Louis, 7:30 p.m. — First look at defending Stanley Cup champions

The Blackhawks-Blues rivalry has always felt a little one-sided, but that's not the case anymore. The Blues ended a 52-year championship drought by defeating the Boston Bruins and planted their mark in the Central Division as the team to beat. Expect there to be a little more juice to this rivalry as the Blues look to keep their flag planted in the ground and the Blackhawks aim to make their presence felt within the division again.

4. Tuesday, Jan. 21 vs. Florida, 7:30 p.m. — Joel Quenneville's return to Chicago

This is the game everyone is waiting for. It will be the first time Chicago will get a chance to welcome Quenneville back to Chicago after he helped bring the city three Stanley Cups, and became the second-winningest NHL coach of all-time in the process. 

What could make this game even more interesting: If former Blackhawks winger Artemi Panarin joins Quenneville's team in South Florida this summer. The Blackhawks will make their visit to Florida on Saturday, Feb. 29 for a 5 p.m. puck drop.

5. Saturday, April 4 at N.Y. Rangers, 12 p.m. — Closing out at The Garden

For the first time in a while, the Blackhawks will be wrapping up the season on the east coast. And there could be some real playoff implications at stake here, for both teams. The iconic Madison Square Garden isn't a bad place to end things off.

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