Even in the second game of back-to-back, it looked like a moment for Corey Crawford on Monday night — the Blackhawks fighting for playoff position and facing the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings in desperation mode. But Scott Darling got the call and was up to the task.
Backed by a strong team defensive effort, Darling faced 32 shots and didn’t flinch after allowing a deflating cheapie with 31 seconds left in the first period to help the Hawks to a 4-1 victory over the Kings at the United Center.
“The team played amazing. I just had to do my job,” Darling said. “I had one mishap and they came in after the first period and told me not to worry about it and said they were going to get [it] back, and they scored two goals right away [in the second period].”
The Hawks have a habit of rising to the defense of their backup goaltender, whether it’s Antti Raanta or Darling, and came through again Monday night. Darling faced only one power play — after Marcus Kruger was called for high-sticking in the second period. And the Hawks allowed only one shot on that power play.
“Last night [a victory over the Jets in Winnipeg with Crawford], tonight the guys played great defense,” Darling said. “They were checking and doing everything right; pucks in, pucks out — everything coach told us to do and it showed. They [the Kings] didn’t get any Grade A scoring opportunities. Even the goal was not a Grade A chance.”
Indeed it was not. The Hawks looked like they were headed into the first intermission with a 1-0 lead when Jake Muzzin’s soft shot off the boards near the left face-off circle went between Darling’s pads to tie the game 1-1 with 31 seconds left in the period.
But Duncan Keith scored a power-play goal 1:37 into the second period and Niklas Hjalmarsson scored in the slot 64 seconds later to give Darling a 3-1 cushion just 2:41 into the period. Darling also stepped up his game — he stopped 22-of-22 Kings shots in the final two periods.
“Unfortunately, that’s not the first bad goal I’ve let in in my life. I wish I could say it will be the last. But you never know,” Darling said. “Luckily it happened right at the end of the period. Bad timing, hockey-wise. But I got to come in and regroup and just forget about it and get ready for the second.”
Forgetting about a bad goal is a necessity for a goalie, but sometimes easier said than done.
“It was a good test tonight [for Darling],” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We haven’t seen an ugly one like that on him. Everybody let in goals that you’d like to have back. I liked his response the rest of the way. You find out about people in that situation. I don’t think he was happy about it, but I commend him on staying focused and doing what he had to do.”
The 6-6, 232-pound Darling is 8-3 with a 1.77 goals-against average and .941 save percentage in 12 games (11 starts) in spot duty this season. In four starts since being recalled from Rockford on Feb. 23 (and signed to a two-year contract extension), Darling is 3-1 with a 1.72 GAA and .943 save percentage. He beat the Rangers 1-0 at Madison Square Garden on March 18 in his previous start.
“You’ve got to commend him — handling big games, big situations,” Quenneville said. “Our team’s comfortable no matter who’s in net. It’s been like that all year.
“[It’s a] good situation as a team and organizationally — at this stage of the game where we’re fighting for everything and you put a young kid in there and don’t [miss] a beat. It’s a good sign.”