CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 19: Corey Crawford #50 of the Chicago Blackhawks congratulates Scott Darling #33 after a win over the Nashville Predators in Game Three of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the United Center on April 19, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Predators 4-2. (Photo by Joanthan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Looking for a goalie? Crawford says Darling’s ‘definitely’ a No. 1

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LOS ANGELES — It’s already well-established that this summer’s goalie market is going to be interesting.

A slew of guys are set to hit unrestricted free agency, and — in addition to teams needing to address the position — the expansion Las Vegas franchise has to fill out its roster as well.

A name that’s garnered plenty of attention recently is Chicago backup Scott Darling. And on Saturday, the guy Darling’s currently behind — second-time All-Star Corey Crawford — put forth a glowing recommendation for his crease mate.

“Definitely,” Crawford said, when asked if Darling is starting netminder material. “He’s already come along and learned so many things in his first two years. He’s a big guy that can move well, and there’s still a lot of things to learn.

“I had to learn that too, in my second year. Being a No. 1, there’s a lot more that goes into it — a little more pressure, and some other things that start to come up that you have to deal with. But as far as skill and technique and mental toughness and all that stuff, Darls has come a long way.”

Darling, 28, is in the midst of a banner campaign. As mentioned, he has ideal size — 6-foot-6 — and showed extremely well this year as the temporary starter, when Crawford went down with appendicitis.

All told, Darling is 12-5-2 with a .925 save percentage and 2.31 GAA. And his body of work over the course of his brief NHL career lends credence to the notion he could be a No. 1 — in 65 games, he’s posted a .923 save percentage and 2.34 GAA.

Darling is an absolute bargain right now, in the last of a two-year deal with a minuscule $587,500 cap hit.

That will likely change this summer.

And along with it, his zip code could change too.

Chicago’s starting gig will stay with Crawford, who’s backstopped the team to a pair of Stanley Cups. This is his second All-Star Game appearance in the last three seasons, and he further cemented his status as one of the NHL’s best this past offseason, when he was one of three goalies named to Team Canada at the World Cup (along with Braden Holtby and Carey Price, the two reigning Vezina winners).

As such, opportunity and a nice payday are probably coming from somewhere other than the Windy City.

The big question, of course, is where Darling fits in what projects to be a fluid market. Guys with starting experience — like Ben Bishop, Ryan Miller, Brian Elliott, Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth — could all come available.

And backups like Darling — Buffalo’s Anders Nilsson, New Jersey’s Keith Kinkaid, Ottawa’s Mike Condon and Calgary’s Chad Johnson — are also having good-to-great years, and could be up for grabs as well.

And, lest we forget, there’s a situation in Pittsburgh where one of Matt Murray or Marc-Andre Fleury will have to be left unprotected in the expansion draft.

Whatever the case, Crawford’s words suggest Darling will be a key figure this summer.

“He’s definitely up there for a spot, for sure,” he said. “He’s a great guy to play with, and just a great guy to be around too.

“It’s been awesome having him as a teammate.”

Lightning, Islanders make East playoff races even more confusing

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning makes the third period save as Ryan Strome #18 of the New York Islanders looks for a rebound at the Barclays Center on November 1, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Whenever you groan at what seems like a quiet trade market, take a step back and ask yourself this: “Who is really out of it?”

For a while there, it felt reasonable to dismiss the chances of teams like the Florida Panthers, New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning. Now? There’s probably only a handful of teams that can really be comfortable, at this very point, with calling themselves sellers.

The Islanders took care of their business with a 3-1 win against the fading (probably selling?) Detroit Red Wings, even with Petr Mrazek making a save like this.

Meanwhile, Ben Bishop might just be putting his game together (while Nikita Kucherov‘s game remains very much together) as the Tampa Bay Lightning throttled the Edmonton Oilers 4-1. Bishop might just end up being indispensable – or at least not worth trading – as he’s on a five-game winning streak.

With those wins, the races for the last seemingly available Eastern Conference playoff spots just get that much muddier.*

Third place in the Atlantic: Maple Leafs – 67 points in 59 games, 28 wins, 27 ROW

Second wild card: Panthers – 66 points in 58 GP, 28 W, 25 ROW

Bruins – 66 points in 59 GP, 30 W, 28 ROW
Islanders – 66 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 27 ROW
Flyers – 63 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 23 ROW
Lightning – 62 points in 59 GP, 27 W, 25 ROW
Sabres – 62 points in 60 GP, 26 W, 25 ROW

Wow, that’s crazy-close. Naturally, teams like the Islanders and Flyers lack the luxury of having a third spot in reasonable reach – unless things get truly wild – but that’s quite the congested group of playoff hopefuls.

And, sure, the Bolts are among those facing longer odds, but the way things keep swinging wildly this season, who knows? Especially with a team with a track record of success and high expectations like the Lightning.

* – We’ll arbitrarily cut off the East race at the Devils, but just in case you’re wondering, they have 60 points, the Red Wings have 58 and the Hurricanes have 56. Also, the Ottawa Senators hold the second spot in the Atlantic with 70 points and the Montreal Canadiens lead the division with 72, so that group could see quite a bit of movement over the last quarter of the season.

Forsberg’s hat trick, own-goal highlights Predators’ wild OT loss to Flames

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If you want to summarize the kind of night the Nashville Predators experienced, you could do worse than to draw parallels to Filip Forsberg‘s experiences.

The highs were quite high, you see. Forsberg & Co. carved away at the Calgary Flames’ 4-1 lead as his hat trick (see above) eventually gave the Predators a fleeting 5-4 edge.

We all should have seen more drama coming … and it did. Forsberg ended up being at the wrong place at the wrong time in overtime; the Flames’ 6-5 overtime winner ended up going off of his foot. Ouch.

Mark Giordano ended up being credited with that goal. The game was just a barn-burner.

While it was an up-and-down night for both the Flames and Predators, Pekka Rinne‘s evening was pretty much uniformly dismal.

Rinne was pulled early in the second period after giving up four goals on 13 shots, making way for Juuse Saros (who actually ended up gtting tagged with the loss).

The Flames can breathe a sigh of relief after winning the game despite coughing up a big lead, improving to 64 points and strengthening their grip on the second wild card spot. That “charity point” comes in handy for Nashville, leaving the Predators with 65 points and a game in hand on the Flames.

Serious performance: Blackhawks gain on Wild thanks to Toews’ five points

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If the Chicago Blackhawks are going to make up some serious ground and overtake the Minnesota Wild for the Central Division title, they’ll need wins like these.

It’s only fitting that “Captain Serious” Jonathan Toews did the heavy lifting, generating a hat trick and two assists as the Blackhawks beat the Wild 5-3 on Tuesday.

Yes, Toews was involved in every goal. And yes, the Blackhawks won this one in regulation after beating the Wild in overtime last time around. It’s a nice swing for Chicago:

Central Division title chase

1. Wild – 84 points in 59 games (39 wins, 36 ROW)
2. Blackhawks – 79 points in 60 games (37 wins, 35 ROW)

Yeah, that’s still a substantial edge for Minnesota … but this is a significant swing.

Even beyond the name recognition that comes with Toews & Co., the Blackhawks’ push shouldn’t be surprising. They’re red-hot in February so far, going 7-1-0 despite playing seven of eight on the road (strangely losing that lone home contest).

The Wild have played reasonably well in their own right, yet this loss sends them into a bye week with some frustration … and maybe some questions about whether they can hold the Blackhawks off.

Also, tonight marked a nice milestone for Joel Quenneville:

Matthews, Leafs get last laugh in OT vs. Laine and the Jets

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Hockey fans tend to get their radars up about over-hyping things, particularly promising rookies.

Is it hasty, then, to wonder if there’s something to a rivalry between Auston Matthews (and the Maple Leafs) vs. Patrik Laine (plus the Jets)? If nothing else, the two have come up big in two very exciting games.

Back in October, Laine generated a hat trick as the Jets beat the Maple Leafs 5-4 in overtime. This time around, it was another 5-4 overtime decision … only Matthews and the Maple Leafs took this round.

This isn’t to take anything away from Laine’s performance, mind you. He scored two goals on Tuesday, becoming the rare modern rookie to muster 30 goals. He reminded hockey fans that he only needs the smallest window to make you pay with his deadly, world-class shot.

MORE on that goal and the violence that ensued here.

But Matthews wouldn’t be denied, either, and fittingly did so in a quieter fashion. (Virtually everyone seems a little quieter when Laine’s around, it seems.)

The Maple Leafs’ outstanding rookie managed three assists in this game, giving him 52 points in 59 games. He also has six points in a three-game run and eight in his past five.

Laine? He now has 54 points in 55 games, extending is own point streak to five games (seven goals, three assists).

In other words, it’s really close … just like the games when these two budding stars (and their young, promising teammates) meet.

You might even be tempted to believe the hype.