Scott Darling is still living the dream.
The Blackhawks rookie goaltender from Lemont continued to be as good as he needed to be, getting better as the stakes kept rising in the Hawks’ 3-2 triple overtime victory against the Nashville Predators on Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning at the United Center.
Darling stopped 50-of-52 shots, including the last 23 he faced after James Neal’s somewhat fluky goal gave the Predators a 2-1 lead with 2:58 left in the second period. Darling only faced five shots in the third period as the Hawks rallied to tie on Brandon Saad’s goal with 8:57 left in regulation. But he made 20 saves in overtime, including several precarious ones that could have doomed the Hawks and tied the series 2-2.
“Just a 60-minute hockey game is grueling. Whatever that was — 100 minutes — it wears you out,” Darling said. “Your eyes and brain get a little fried from being zoned in for so long. Physically you’re sweating out pounds of sweat and your feet are in those skates for five or six hours, doesn’t feel too good. It’s a long grueling game. It’s a war. But it was a great game to be a part of. I’m just thrilled with the outcome.”
For the first time since Darling became a factor in this series, coach Joel Quenneville was not asked if Darling would be the starter in the next game.
“He’s been great,” Quenneville said of Darling. “That consistency, composure. Handles the puck. He moves forward to the next challenge and next opportunity. Guys responded in front of him as well. It’s been a good story.”
Neither of the goals that Darling allowed were goalie gaffes. Colin Wilson deflected a shot from the point by Ryan Ellis to give the Predators a 1-0 lead with 8:22 left in the first period. Neal scored when Duncan Keith’s nonchalant clearing attempt in front of the Hawks net went right off the blade of Neal’s stick and slid into the front corner of the net.
“He’s been great,” said defenseman Brent Seabrook, who scored the game winning goal one minute into the third overtime. “He played really well [in Game 4]. He gave us a chance to win. That’s all you can ask for. Their second goal [by Neal] was a tough bounce. But he’s been playing reallywell and all we can ask for as players is to give us a chance to win and tonight we were able to.”
Darling obviously was exhausted at the end. The overriding emotion after Seabrook scored? “Relief,” he said. “I didn’t even celebrate. I just exhaled and celebrated with the boys. Awesome goal. Huge, huge goal by him.”
Darling’s storybook postseason moves to a new chapter as the Hawks go for the clincher in Game 5 at Bridgestone Arena. In three Stanley Cup playoff games, Darling has a 1.05 goals-against average and a .969 save percentage. Darling is the NHL playoff leader in both categories.
Darling said the experience is both exhilarating and exhausting. But he’s still living a dream.
“I’m loving every minute, just being here and experiencing this with a great group of guys,” he said. “Being a part of this team has been awesome. Maybe in the summer I’ll have more time to reflect on it. But right now I’m just trying to stick with it and do the best I can and the team’s playing awesome and making my life easy.”