Playing for his hometown Blackhawks has been a dream situation for Lemont native Scott Darling. But after three seasons as goalie Corey Crawford’s understudy, he’s ready for the next challenge. And it almost certainly won’t happen in Chicago.
‘‘I feel like I’ve paid my dues as a backup,’’ Darling said when he was asked if he wanted to be a No. 1 goalie next season. ‘‘And when I’ve had a chance to play consecutive games, I feel like I’ve shown that I can do it. So, yeah.”
Darling shook some hands and said some goodbyes — just in case — as the Hawks cleaned out their lockers and held exit interviews Saturday at the United Center. He called his time with the Hawks ‘‘the best three years of my life. I loved every second.’’ He went 18-5-5 with a .924 save percentage this season.
He’s one of several Hawks who aren’t under contract for next season. Winger Richard Panik, coming off a 22-goal season, is a restricted free agent who is in line for a big raise from his $875,000 salary. Forward Dennis Rasmussen, one of the few bright spots in the first-round playoff sweep at the hands of the Nashville Predators, is a restricted free agent, too, as is defenseman Michal Kempny. All three said they want to return.
Defensemen Johnny Oduya and Brian Campbell and winger Andrew Desjardins are unrestricted free agents. Winger Tomas Jurco, who didn’t pan out as a trade-deadline acquisition, is restricted.
Campbell returned to the Hawks on a bargain $1.5 million contract this season because he wanted to stay home. The soon-to-be 38-year-old reiterated he only wants to play in Chicago, which means retirement is a possibility, too.
‘‘My body feels good,’’ Campbell said. ‘‘But I need to take some time to get away from everything and think about it.’’
Change for the better
Captain Jonathan Toews’ goal late in the third period of Game 4 against the Predators was the only one he has scored in the last two postseasons. And that had him thinking about changing his offseason training habits.
‘‘There are some things I have to re-evaluate and think about this offseason,’’ Toews said. ‘‘I obviously didn’t get to the level I needed to be to help our team survive for a little longer in this last playoff series, so I’ve got to be responsible for that, as well. Just look back, assess and see what you can change and do differently.’’
Speed is the key, Toews said.
‘‘I’ve always been the type of player who likes to play heavy and protect the puck in the corners,’’ he said. ‘‘Seems the strength has been a factor but also the speed in my game that I used to have in my younger years. I’ve got to get back to playing more puck-possession, a little bit more speed on the rush. The skill part is another thing I’ll have to focus on and try to get back to playing the way I know I can.’’
Winger Patrick Kane said coach Joel Quenneville referred to the Predators’ 1-4 neutral-zone trap as ‘‘Red Rover’’ and suggested it’s not the most exciting brand of hockey.
‘‘A team like that, you kind of hope they don’t win because I don’t know if that’s necessarily the best way to watch hockey games and to actually have that excitement level,’’ Kane said. ‘‘But on the other [hand], they played good going the other way, too. They kind of sat back, but their transition game is fast, and they played with a lot of speed the other way. That gave us problems.’’
Winger Marian Hossa, who said he will be back next season, said the Predators took the Hawks out of their game and forced them to play a dump-and-chase style that didn’t work for them.
‘‘We couldn’t play the way we used to play,’’ he said. ‘‘All of a sudden, we started playing a different game, and you could tell they were quicker, faster, more on the same page. And we were almost disoriented.’’
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