Oh! Darling, Should the Blackhawks Believe You?

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On Tuesday night, little-known goaltender Scott Darling surrendered one goal in a loss to the Ducks, posting his second straight impressive outing. Despite being handed the loss, Darling has piqued the interest of Blackhawks nation.

Scott Darling goalie
Scott Darling (Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

In Corey Crawford’s absence, the Blackhawks looked to Antti Raanta three straight times before turning to Darling. Raanta began with a 32 save shutout against the Flyers, but lost two straight against the Blues and Predators, allowing three goals in each contest.

Darling finally got the nod on Sunday against the Senators in a battle of Illinois-born goalies against Craig Anderson. The Sens, who had put up ten goals in their previous three games, were limited to one goal on 33 shots against Darling. Coach Quenneville turned to Darling again in an important matchup against the Ducks who came into the game with a 7-2-0 record.

Darling, with his 6-foot-6 frame, stood tall against the Ducks potent offense, keeping them off the board until mid-way through the third period. Devante Smith-Pelly managed to just trickle the puck past Darling on a shorthanded breakaway to snap the 0-0 tie and Darling’s chance at a shutout. However, there’s no denying Darling has left his mark, even if he is sent down to Rockford before he gets another start. With Crawford traveling with the team and possibly returning on Thursday, it’s highly doubtful that Raanta would be sent down, leaving Darling as the odd man out. So when will we see him next?

Big Goalies Trending Up

Recently, the league has seen many tall goalies enter the league and become successful relatively quick. At 6-foot-4, Martin Jones has been a brick wall backing up Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles and will undoubtedly find himself with a starting job one day. At 6-foot-5, Pekka Rinne is returning to prime form in Nashville, while the Wild’s Darcy Kuemper and Senators’ Robin Lehner are emerging as young stars and may soon find themselves as full time starters. At 6-foot-7, Ben Bishop burst onto the scene with Tampa Bay last year, keeping the Lightning afloat despite Steven Stamkos’ absence. Darling finds himself among a lanky group of goalies who appear to be taking the league by storm. While being tall doesn’t guarantee success (see Devan Dubnyk, Anders Lindback), the two seem to be positively correlated.

At a mere 6 feet tall, Raanta ranks among the shortest goalies in the league, while Crawford isn’t towering over anyone either, at 6-foot-2. Darling has definitely caught the attention of the team and Blackhawks fans. Despite early skepticism from some fans, there has been no reason to doubt Darling so far and the Lemont native is already well on his way to becoming a fan favorite.

Scott Darling – Performing at all Levels

Antti Raanta
Antti Raanta could be in trouble if Darling continues his strong play. (Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)

Originally selected in the 6th round of the 2007 draft by the Phoenix Coyotes, Darling elected to play at the University of Maine for two seasons. Since then, he has donned several jerseys in several leagues, including the SPHL, the ECHL, and the CHL. Darling finally saw AHL action last season for the Predators’ affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals, and didn’t disappoint. In 26 games, Darling posted an even two goals against to go along with a .933% save percentage. With six shutouts in his limited time, it seems like he can get hot in a hurry.

Darling was pleased to return home when he signed with Chicago this offseason and it’s clear he intends on making a name for himself in the city. During the preseason, Darling allowed no goals on 27 shots over two appearances. Despite backing up 33-year-old journeyman Michael Leighton in Rockford, Darling has made the best of his opportunities for the IceHogs, allowing just three goals on 55 shots.

Not much has been expected out of the 25-year-old Darling, but he has shown the Hawks he can lend a hand if needed. It’s possible that his emergence could make Raanta expendable. Also 25, Raanta has played well in his three games this year, but did not have a smooth transfer to American hockey last season. With a 2.71 GAA and sub-.900% save percentage in Chicago last year, he hasn’t done enough to solidify his backup job as of yet. If the Blackhawks have faith in Darling when the trade deadline rolls around, Raanta or Darling could be gone. Plenty of teams will be looking for goaltending help and depending on the Blackhawks’ needs, they may find that they have an excess of capable NHL goalies.

I am sure Corey Crawford isn’t shaking in his boots and he shouldn’t be. Crawford may not be a top-tier NHL goalie, but he has led the Hawks to a cup and has put up decent regular season numbers. Raanta, however, can’t falter if he wants to keep his job as Crawford’s back-up. Keep up the good work, Scotty, who knows what will happen.