Corey Crawford missed his second consecutive game with an upper-body injury, which gave Scott Darling a third consecutive start in goal on Sunday — and his best chance to get back in his 2014-15 groove in what coach Joel Quenneville called a “pretty critical” time for the Blackhawks.
Coming off a 4-0 victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Friday night — his second career shutout — Darling entered the Wild game with a 7-6-2 record in 15 starts, with a 2.55 goals-against average and .914 save percentage. That’s a bit of a decline from last season, when Darling was 9-4-0 in 13 starts with a 2.05 goals-against average and .933 save percentage. Quenneville acknowledged the less-than-stellar play — along with Crawford’s Vezina-caliber season — cost Darling a couple of more starts this season.
Crawford will be the Hawks’ goalie in the Stanley Cup playoffs, but Darling made a key contribution last year when he won three games of the opening-round series against the Predators, including a spectacular 42-save relief performance in Game 1.
“It’s nice knowing that either one can play and get the job done,” Quenneville said. “It’s something you hope to have at all times in the regular season, especially playoff time. But it’s the way it is — we know the importance of it. You’re going to have to rely on one another at some point. [He] showed last year in a critical time what he was capable of doing. It’s pretty critical for us right now.”
One likely factor in Darling’s performance this year is his spot-duty workload. Until Friday night Darling had yet to start back-to-back games. His average time between starts had been nearly 14 days, the shortest being five days. Last year he played three consecutive games for Crawford in October and four straight games in December — both impressive stints.
“I think it is important,” captain Jonathan Toews said. “It’s not necessarily a blessing [that Crawford is injured], but I think it is in some way an opportunity for Scotty to get some games and get that confidence.
“It’s not easy to play as few games as he’s played this year, knowing that he’s always been [mostly a starter] in his career — a guy that at least is going to get much more opportunity than he has this year. So that’s a challenge in itself. I think now it’s good for him to get in that routine heading down the stretch — maybe if he does get a chance to pop in here or there for a period. He’s going to be much more prepared for it.”