BOSTON — Scott Darling got the start Friday night not so much because Corey Crawford has looked human lately, but because, well, he had to start sometime. With no back-to-back games on the schedule until mid-February, Joel Quenneville figured the game against the Bruins, with Darling’s dad in attendance, was as good a night as any to get him some work.
As for whether Darling could force his hand and keep the net for another night, Quenneville demurred, saying, “Their play a lot of time makes our decision for us.”
Darling made his case, making 30 saves to singlehandedly keep the Blackhawks in the game long enough for them to steal a 1-0 victory over the embattled Bruins at TD Garden. It was Marian Hossa who got the game-winning goal, one-timing a cross-goalmouth backhanded feed from Tanner Kero with 1:26 left in the third period. But it was Darling who was the hero in this one.
In his previous start, on Jan. 6, Darling made 39 saves in a victory over the Hurricanes. But he quickly stomped out the flame of any burgeoning goalie controversy. At least, in his mind.
“I don’t know if you guys know who my goalie partner is, but he’s one of the best goalies in the world, hands-down, no arguments,” Darling said. “I’m just pretty happy to get any games I can.”
Darling, who spends his summers in the north Boston suburb of Essex, said that he was “appreciative” of the start and that “they didn’t have to do that.” But Darling’s aw-shucks attitude belies his consistently stellar play. In seven of his last 11 starts, including his three-week stint in December as the No. 1 while Crawford recovered from an appendectomy, Darling has allowed one goal or no goals.
“He’s always ready,” Hossa said. “Obviously, when he’s in the net, he seems huge there. He always makes the key saves. Another shutout for him. It’s unreal the way he’s just always ready [even] when he’s not playing for a longer time.”
Darling was tested early and often. The Bruins were all over the Hawks from the start, putting them in an all-too-familiar first period. Boston had a 17-6 edge in shots, but thanks largely to point-blank saves by Darling on Joe Morrow and Austin Czarnik, the score was 0-0 after one. It stayed that way through two periods, with Darling stoning David Krejci in the slot among his eight saves in the period. It was more of the same in the third. Darling made big saves on Brad Marchand (during a Hawks power play) and Frank Vatrano as the sleepy pace picked up considerably late in the game.
Tuukka Rask didn’t see as many shots, but he kept the game scoreless. But he couldn’t stop Hossa’s 17th goal of the season in the dying minutes, which was all the Hawks needed, thanks to Darling.
Darling credited his strong play this year to improved mental toughness. Even in a game with friends and family in attendance, even against the likes of Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara and Rask, whom he has watched for years, he no longer gets too “geeked up” in net.
“Just be calm, keep it simple, use my size,” he said. “And when you have to make a big save, then you try to use the big frame and athleticism. But you try to use it as little as possible.”
All Quenneville would say when asked if Darling was under consideration to start Sunday against the Canucks was a brisk, “We’ll see.” But at the very least, Darling has proved that he could alleviate some of the burden on Crawford while keeping the Hawks in every game.
Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.