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Scott Darling struggles as Blackhawks stumble in Boston

Andrew Desjardins falls while battling for a loose puck against Boston's Kevan Miller on Thursday night. (Getty Images)

BOSTON — Funny thing about being a backup goaltender. You work as hard as you can to be as ready as possible for the rare times you get the call. But ideally, you won’t see a minute of ice time in the postseason.

Of course, Scott Darling proved how important a backup goalie can be last season, when he righted the Blackhawks ship during the first-round series against Nashville. And in this final month of the season, Darling likely will get two or three starts as the Hawks try to fend off Dallas and St. Louis for the Central Division title. So no matter what, he’ll play a key role.

“I do most of my work in practice with Darling, because he plays less than [Corey Crawford],” Hawks goaltending coach Jimmy Waite said. “I make sure I keep him sharp, because when he steps in there he needs to be sharp, and we need those two big points.”

Well, Darling wasn’t sharp on Thursday night. And as a result, the Hawks’ building momentum was slowed by an underwhelming 4-2 loss to the Boston Bruins.

“He wasn’t very good tonight,” Joel Quenneville said of Darling. “We expect more than that.”

Quenneville gave Darling a vote of confidence, however. He was making just his second start in nearly six weeks (he had three relief appearances in that span), and had put up solid numbers throughout the season, with only two or three real clunkers.

“He’s had some real good games for us,” Quenneville said. “It’s one game. I can’t remember the last one he had where he was [bad]. So he’s been all right.”

Darling gave up two tough goals in the first period, and three on the first 14 shots he faced as the Hawks dug themselves a hole they couldn’t get out of. It wasn’t an awful performance — the Bruins really didn’t generate many prime scoring chances — but against a solid team fighting for its own playoff spot, it wasn’t nearly enough.

The Hawks remained in first place, because Dallas and St. Louis were off. But every chance to put some distance between them and the rest of the division is a big one.

“It was just one of those games that we got behind early,” Hawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “Nowadays it seems like it’s tough to get back in games when you’re down. We’ve got to find a way to get a better effort. I know it’s a back-to-back, but you can’t really make up any excuses. It just wasn’t good enough today and they were better than we were.”

Darling gave up a goal to Patrice Bergeron 78 seconds into the first period, and Brad Marchand with 22 seconds left. Quenneville wasn’t happy with either. In between, Jonathan Toews scored with assists from newcomers Christian Ehrhoff (shot from the blue line) and Andrew Ladd (muscled the rebound over to Toews while drawing two Bruins defenders).

Ryan Spooner and Loui Eriksson added second-period tallies to make it 4-1, and while Tomas Fleischmann’s first goal with the Hawks — off a nice bit of passing from Hjalmarsson and Teuvo Teravainen — gave the team life late in the second period, they couldn’t get any closer.

The Hawks appeared to be building momentum with big wins over Washington and Detroit, but fell flat in Boston. It’s the kind of inconsistent play they’ve been lamenting all season — all or nothing, good or bad. And the Hawks no longer have their schedule as an excuse for the occasional off night. The brutal pace they faced in January and early February has slowed to a crawl, so that even a back-to-back set of road games like the one this week shouldn’t be too much of a burden.

Quenneville pointed out they’re in the midst of a 10-game stretch against playoff teams. But if they want to win the division and secure home-ice advantage, they’ll need to be more consistent, no matter who’s in net.

“We have a really good schedule the rest of the season, so we can’t really blame it on being tired or anything like that,” Hjalmarsson said. “There’s teams that have much worse schedules than we have for the rest of the season, so we definitely have to try to take advantage.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus