For a man of size, Scott Darling has looked up to a lot of people during his ongoing odyssey. Among them is Pekka Rinne, whom Darling met when he was property of the Nashville Predators. Mind you, Darling has been property of numerous organizations, but he filed away that cameo exposure to Rinne.
“First of all, great guy in addition to being a great goalie,” Darling said. “Took me to dinner, showed me around town, didn’t have to. I was nervous. Because he’s built like me, I watched him a lot, especially in practice. He showed me a lot about that, how to prepare. A real professional.”
On Sunday, Darling made his first National Hockey League playoff start. It was against Rinne, for the Blackhawks, and in the United Center, where noise began with a pregame presentation that is worth the price of admission and then escalated to O’Hare runway levels.
Darling said he never heard a building grip a racket quite like that. Father Scott flew up from Texas, mom and the usual family contingent attended. Plenty of reasons for Scott, the masked man, to be overwhelmed, but he exudes copious amounts of calm for a fellow who still pinches himself between saves.
“Exciting every time I step on the ice,” assured Darling, who recorded a 4-2 victory that affords the Blackhawks a 2-1 lead against a hurting but willing Nashville roster. The Blackhawks were outplayed in the first two games of this opening playoff series. They were not outplayed Sunday, from Darling throughout a slightly revised roster (Antoine Vermette and Andrew Desjardins in, Teuvo Teravainen and Joakim Nordstrom out).
Brandon Saad broke a 2-2 tie when he absconded with the puck near his own blue line and zeroed in on Rinne, thinking maybe high blocker? Rinne probably was going to have to stand on his head to win on Sunday. On Saad’s missile, he wasn’t standing all that tall, not that he would have authored the stop even if he were using all of his 6-foot-5 frame.
Brent Seabrook, on a pass nicely provided by Jonathan Toews, made it 4-2 later as the Blackhawks and their high-octane forwards (notably Toews and Marian Hossa) pressed a Predators squad bearing significant vacancies: Shea Weber and Mike Fisher.
The Blackhawks, who did not achieve an in-game lead at Nashville, managed two early on Sunday. But they were both ephemeral. After Desjardins scored 14:48 into the first period, Mike Ribeiro beat Darling at 15:19.
Second period, same as the first. Hossa left the puck for Toews, who blasted it in at 36 seconds. But at 58 seconds, Mattias Ekholm rattled a shot off the pipe to Darling’s right and in.
What’s that, you say? A goalie controversy? Or is it more accurately a goalie collection? Corey Crawford has won a Stanley Cup, shares the Jennings Trophy and went to the NHL All-Star Game. Some franchises would kill for such a problem, especially since Crawford is not one himself.
“His support has been unbelievable,” said Darling about another peer he admires.