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Crawford lends support to Blackhawks rookie Darling

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO – When the Chicago Blackhawks take the ice at United Center on Tuesday for Game 4 of their Western Conference First Round series against the Nashville Predators (9:30 p.m. ET: NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports 3, FS-TN, CSN-CH), rookie goalie Scott Darling will get his second straight start.

Darling, 26, earned the nod from coach Joel Quenneville with a 35-save performance in Game 3, when he played over Corey Crawford and won his first career start in the Stanley Cup Playoffs to help the Blackhawks take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-7 series.

"I've been working hard all year with the goalie coaches and just trying to be ready to go in case I ever got a moment like this," Darling said Monday. "Now I'm just trying to make the most of it."

Darling also won Game 1 in double overtime, when he relieved Crawford after one period and didn't allow a goal on 42 shots. He was solid again Sunday in a setting he'd always dreamed about growing up a diehard Blackhawks fan in the Chicago suburb of Lemont, Ill.

"It was a pretty big stage," Quenneville said. "He's done a lot of cool things here this year, right from the outset. He doesn't get rattled, [and] doesn't change his demeanor no matter what the decision is. [He's] got a smile on his face. He's happy to be here. Good story."

The story has another facet that involves Crawford, who backstopped the Blackhawks' 2013 Stanley Cup title by starting all 23 games. Crawford had never been pulled in a playoff game by Quenneville prior to Game 1 and until Sunday, Crawford started Chicago's previous 57 postseason games dating back to the 2010-11 season.

Crawford is frustrated by his own plight, but is pulling for Darling to stay hot. He knows the extent Darling's gone to be in this position after bouncing around multiple minor league teams and battling some personal issues off the ice.

"Scott's an awesome guy," Crawford said. "He's gone through a lot to get here and he's been playing awesome. How can you not feel good for him, you know? He's been great, so I've just got to encourage him too, [and] keep pushing him to be at his best."

As for himself, Crawford is doing what he's always done during tough stretches. He was back on the ice Monday at the Blackhawks' practice facility trying to track the puck better and get himself ready for his next outing, whenever it might happen.

"I'm just trying to work hard," Crawford said. "The only thing I can do now is be ready in case I have to go back in. Other than that, encourage the guys, stay positive, make sure that the body language is good and everything's positive around here, so there's a nice feel around the room and nothing negative. But I felt good today. I was seeing the puck a lot better … it's a matter of just waiting."

Crawford was asked if he understood Quenneville's decision to bench him for Game 3 and that's the closest he came to a complaint.

"Uh, it doesn't really matter," said Crawford, who went 32-20-5 with a 2.27 goals-against average and .924 save percentage in the regular season. "We're up 2-1 in the series. That's all that matters right now is the wins. Everything else doesn't count."

It hasn't been an easy situation to swallow, but Crawford is trying to be good teammate and friend for Darling.

"I'm not going to lie," Crawford said. "It was pretty frustrating at first. I want to be in the net and I want to play. I always did. I always will. But right now, that's not my job … right now it's to battle hard in practice and be positive in the room and encourage the guys."

That includes his competitor for ice time during the most intense part of the season.

"He's been awesome to me, and like a mentor for me, and teaching me tons," Darling said of Crawford. "He's got a lot of experience at this level and I've had very limited, so I can't thank him enough for just little life lessons and goalie lessons he's shared with me. It's been good so far."

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