by PuckStopsHere on 04/25/15 at 03:11 PM ET
The goaltender with the top saves percentage among those who have been the clear number one goalie in the playoffs so far is Scott Darling of the Chicago Blackhawks. He is posting a 1.67 GAA and a .950 saves percentage. These are outstanding numbers. He is the latest in a string of unknown goalies who has a significant hot streak at the start of their careers before regressing to more average numbers. This season there has been Michael Hutchinson of the Winnipeg Jets and Andrew Hammond of the Ottawa Senators who have fit that pattern. Both are significant reasons why their teams made the playoffs.
Darling is a 26 year old who has only 14 games regular season experience. In fact he has only 28 games AHL experience. Most of his career has been played in lower level professional leagues and in the NCAA.
Chicago is one of the top teams in the NHL. I am always on the lookout for an elite team and I thought Chicago might be a candidate. They have several Hall of Fame candidate players in Duncan Keith, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and perhaps Brent Seabrook. With an elite goaltender they have the pieces that they could be an elite team. I assumed Corey Crawford would be the goalie. Although Crawford has never been a Vezina Trophy candidate he has posted pretty good numbers. He has a 2.27 GAA and a .924 saves percentage this year. I wondered if he might be an elite goalie. He won`t be if he cannot beat out Scott Darling.
The chance exists that Darling is as good as he has shown in his short career but it's unlikely. He was not considered a serious NHL prospect until recently. He was not on an NHL path until 2011 when Darling quit drinking and made a serious commitment to the gym losing 40 pounds. That was when his career trajectory turned around. It is possible (though unlikely) that he had top NHL talent but was squandering it. Most likely Darling is no future NHL star. He may have an NHL career but nobody expects him to continue to play at the level he has shown so far in the playoffs. In the meantime he shows how goaltending may be the weak link for the Chicago Blackhawks. Can Crawford be relied upon if Darling stops playing at this level? If not does Chicago have a serious shot at the Stanley Cup?
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