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Blackhawks' Darling still feels he has to prove himself

by Brian Hedger

ISLANDERS (0-0-1) at BLACKHAWKS (1-1-0)


CHICAGO -- Last season Scott Darling became a darling story in Chicago because of his rags-to-riches path to the NHL.

He took advantage of an invitation to Chicago Blackhawks training camp by earning his first NHL contract, winning the backup goalie job mid-season and helping the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup for the third time in six seasons.

Now he's ready to prove it wasn't a fluke.

"At the end of the day, a lot of guys have come into the League for 20 games and you've never heard from them again," said Darling, 26, who likely will start against the New York Islanders at United Center on Saturday. "I want to stay here. I want to keep playing here. I want to continue playing. So I'm just trying to stay motivated and excited, and it's not too hard right now."

Darling, who grew up a Blackhawks fan in the Chicago suburb of Lemont, Ill., can start his new quest with a good game against the Islanders in the finale of a back-to-back set that began with the Blackhawks' 3-2 overtime win at Barclays Center on Friday.

If he plays like he did last season, Darling should be fine.

The 6-foot-6, 232-pound goalie went 9-4-0 with a 1.94 goals-against average, .936 save percentage and one shutout in 14 regular-season games. He also got into five games against the Nashville Predators in the Western Conference First Round, including four starts.

Darling went 3-1 in that series. In Game 1 he stopped all 42 shots he faced in a 67:44 relief effort in the Blackhawks' 4-3 double-overtime victory. It was a League record for longest scoreless relief outing.

"He wowed us [last season]," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "It was one of those surprises you don't see every year. He came on the scene in a real nice way for us and helped solidify that goaltender position."

Darling now is determined to avoid complacency in his second NHL season.

"I'm thrilled to be in the role I'm in, and I'm just trying to keep it," he said. "I'm just trying to keep doing what I did last year that got me here."

One thing is different for Darling this season, and that's a mask designed by artist Dave Gunnarsson.

"There's the Blackhawks [logos] on it, and they actually glow in the dark when the lights are out," Darling said. "[Gunnarsson is] a wizard with goalie masks and that was all him. I designed the back plate and he did the major concept. We're working on another one right now that I kind of designed, but he's great at what he does and I think it looks pretty sharp."

The Islanders might have their own goalie storyline to watch.

Rookie Jean-Francois Berube likely will make his NHL debut in place of Jaroslav Halak, who is out because of an upper-body injury. Berube was claimed on waivers from the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday.

Islanders defenseman Nick Leddy also will play his first game at United Center since being traded by the Blackhawks on Oct. 4, 2014. Leddy was injured when New York visited Chicago last season.

Here are the projected lineups:


Anders Lee - John Tavares - Ryan Strome

Josh Bailey - Frans Nielsen - Kyle Okposo

Brock Nelson - Mikhail Grabovski - Nikolay Kulemin

Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Cal Clutterbuck

Nick Leddy - Johnny Boychuk

Calvin de Haan - Travis Hamonic

Brian Strait - Marek Zidlicky

Jean-Francois Berube

Thomas Greiss

Injured: Jaroslav Halak (upper body), Thomas Hickey (upper body)

Scratched: Ryan Pulock, Steve Bernier


Andrew Shaw - Jonathan Toews - Marian Hossa

Artemi Panarin - Artem Anisimov - Patrick Kane

Bryan Bickell - Teuvo Teravainen - Viktor Tikhonov

Andrew Desjardins - Marcus Kruger - Ryan Garbutt

Duncan Keith - Niklas Hjalmarsson

Viktor Svedberg - Brent Seabrook

Trevor Daley - Trevor van Riemsdyk

Scott Darling

Corey Crawford

Injured: Michal Rozsival (left ankle)

Scratched: Kyle Baun, David Rundblad

Status report: Neither team held a morning skate, so lineup changes are possible. … Quenneville still is looking for someone to play consistently on the top line with Toews and Hossa. He's used Marko Dano, Shaw and Teravainen since the start of the preseason and none has impressed enough yet to earn the full-time role. ... Baun, a rookie, is a possibility to re-enter the lineup for Chicago, likely in a bottom-six role.

Who's hot: Kane scored two goals Friday against the Islanders, including in overtime.

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