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Scott Darling on his on-ice struggles, leaving Chicago, new ownership (PHT Q&A)

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Scott Darling‘s first season in Carolina has been less than ideal. When the ‘Canes opened the vault to sign him to a contract last spring, they expected that they’d be getting a solid number one netminder. Instead, Darling and Cam Ward have taken turns being less than stellar.

Darling realizes that he needs to be better if the Hurricanes want to make the playoffs. It’s the first time in a while that he’s hit adversity on the ice and he’s hoping that his hard work in practice and off the ice will pay off between now and the end of the regular season.

During Carolina’s recent trip through Montreal, Darling took the time to speak to PHT about his game, leaving Chicago and the team’s new ownership situation.

Q. How do you evaluate your first half in Carolina? 

DARLING: “Oh, I mean, it’s definitely not good enough. I’ve had some good games and some bad games too and some bad luck, but it’s got to be better. There’s been some uncharacteristic nights for me. I’ve been working really hard the last couple of weeks in practice and off the ice working out and stuff like that trying to be as ready as I can the next time I get in the net.”

What are the type of things that have surprised you so far this year?

“I haven’t really faced on-ice adversity in six, seven years. This is uncomfortable (laughs). It’s something I don’t like and it’s something I’m working hard to fix.”

What’s the adjustment like when you go to a new team and a new city after being in Chicago for so long?

“Oh, it’s huge. I was lucky to know a lot of the guys on the team already playing with them before. But it’s a big change in your life. I put down roots in Chicago. I’m from Chicago. I had a house there, I had a life there. So it’s a big change to uproot. New team, new city, new coaches, new system, new everything, so it’s definitely a factor, but I don’t think that’s the deciding factor on what’s going on on the ice.”

How much more difficult is it when you go up on the pay scale? 

“At the end of the day, no matter what, in the NHL you’re making good money. Especially for someone like me who’s played for a lot less. Even making league minimum was huge for me. I don’t really think about the money, it’s just more the outside. The way they look at you, the expectations, but for me personally it doesn’t affect the way I play.”

How has your relationship with a veteran like Cam Ward helped you this season?

“Oh, it’s helped me a lot. He’s a world class guy and a world class goalie. He’s talked me off the ledge a few times. He’s been through the ups and downs, he’s been doing this a long time with this team. He’s seen the dark days, he’s seen the good days. He helps me keep an even keel and keeps motivating me to keep working hard. Everything’s going to turn around. I know I’m a good goalie. I have confidence in myself. Sometimes it rains, but the sun is going to come out eventually.”

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Is this the most adversity you’ve faced at the NHL level?

“Absolutely. At the NHL level for sure. Luckily it’s not the first time in my life I’ve had to face a little adversity. I’m just trying to stay positive because I know what I can do and I know it’s going to turn around.”

What previous experiences have you gone through that can help you get through this?

“I’ve played in the [ECHL], [SPHL], I’ve had dark days down there. At the end of the day, it’s still a great day, you’re in the NHL and you get to be here and play at the Bell Center (on Thursday). So just keeping everything in perspective and staying positive is all you can really do and that’s what I’m doing.”

Did new ownership breathe new life into this locker room? 

“I don’t if it brought new life into the locker room, but it’s changed things which is good. Just our little day-to-day stuff is getting better. The way it’s all ran for us, the resources we have, things we need, just little stuff is already changed. So it’s one less thing to worry about.”

What’s the biggest change so far?

“The big changes are on their way. Right now, just getting more food, healthier food,just little stuff like that. We’re not worried about ordering new equipment. (Thomas Dundon) is doing it right and we’re really excited to have him.”

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Cam Ward keeping Hurricanes in playoff hunt as Scott Darling struggles

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It seemed simple enough for the Carolina Hurricanes after last season: Find a goaltender and the upward climb should finally begin with the young talent on the roster.

So when general manager Ron Francis traded for Scott Darling’s rights and signed him a four-year deal, it seemed like a problem solved. Darling did an admirable job backing up Corey Crawford with the Chicago Blackhawks and now was his opportunity to take the reins as a regular NHL No. 1 goalie.

Boy, it hasn’t gone well at all.

Darling is currently sporting a .896 even strength save percentage and was in net for all eight goals during last Tuesday’s drubbing at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs. (How soon until head coach gives him the Eddie Lack treatment?)

“It’s been kind of an up-and-down season for me,” Darling told Ken Campbell of The Hockey News after the loss. “Great game, not-so-great game. I can’t really put my (finger) on it. It’s still just goaltending, right? So I don’t really know why I’m having consistency issues. Maybe it’s just the adjustment to a new team, new city, new everything. My whole life is different now, so I’m sure all that stuff factors into it.”

In fact, it’s gone so poorly for Darling and the Hurricanes that Cam Ward, whose play the last few years led to Francis making the trade, has the job again while helping Carolina win his last four starts.

“I’m just enjoying it. You have a newfound appreciation for the game when you see you’re not playing as much and try to take advantage of the opportunities that you’re given,” he said after Saturday’s win over the Buffalo Sabres.

We’ll see how long this Ward renaissance lasts, but the end game is to get Darling right because he’s signed through the 2020-21 season at a $4.15 million cap hit. The Hurricanes need that to happen because as Adam Gretz noted earlier this month they’ve finished 18th, 28th, 29th and 26th in team save percentage over the last four seasons. Many have been expecting this team to finally turn the corner and be on the rise, but their production from between the pipes has really been holding them back.

Plus, besides there being a lack of quality options on the market, there’s plenty of competition around the league is trying to shore up their goaltending. The Pittsburgh Penguins would like to add someone. Maybe Garth Snow is close to fully losing his patience with Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss. Plenty want to buy but the goods just aren’t available at the moment.

If Ward, who will start Wednesday vs. Montreal, comes back down to earth, and it’s likely to happen sooner rather than later, Darling’s play needs to match up with the expectations laid upon him after the Hurricanes made the deal. It’s a tight squeeze in the Metropolitan Division and Carolina is currently sitting three points out of a wild card spot (thanks, loser point!).

Losing out on extra points due to goaltending isn’t an ideal plan, so whether it’s Ward or Darling for the long-run here, that position can’t sink the Hurricanes once again.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Interviewer: Raanta’s rooting against Hawks quote is real, but needs context

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A report from Ilta-Sanomat claimed that goaltender Antti Raanta hoped that the Nashville Predators would sweep his Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the 2015 playoffs. Raanta has since denied making those comments, but the man who interviewed him, Juha Luotola, says he has it on tape.

At the same time, Luotola feels that the quote being passed around lacks context as it was just one line from a talk that lasted hours.

“Antti was frustrated after Chicago send him [a] second time [to the] AHL and he told me truly how he felt,” Luotola said, per CSN Chicago. “Statement looks bad if you read only one line from story. It’s easy to [be] misunderstood and get away from the full story. But I also know that Antti didn’t mean that in bad way. It was just his way to explain how frustrated he was: bad feeling last couple hours and after that, he was happy to be a part of team again.”

Luotola also noted that the goaltender had a lot of great things to say about his time with the Blackhawks.

Although Raanta had a 1.89 GAA and .936 save percentage in 14 games last season, he ultimately lost the backup job to Scott Darling. Chicago dealt him to the New York Rangers in exchange for Ryan Haggerty this summer.

Raanta denies Finnish report: ‘I have never said anything like that’

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Former Blackhawks’ goaltender Antti Raanta refuted a report by Ilta-Sanomat, which said he was cheering against Chicago during the Stanley Cup playoffs.

According to the Finnish newspaper, Raanta had hoped the Nashville Predators would sweep the Blackhawks in the first round of the playoffs.

“With fingers crossed I hoped (Nashville) would beat us in four so I could get back to Finland sooner. I was so pissed,” Raanta said per Vesa Rantanen.

When reached by Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times, Raanta denied the comments.

“I have never said anything like that,” he said.

The 26-year-old appeared in 14 games with the Blackhawks last season posting a 7-4-1 record to go along with a 2.39 G.A.A. and a .918 save percentage. Raanta was demoted to the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs in favor of Scott Darling in February.

Instead of staying with the IceHogs during the Calder Cup playoffs, Chicago recalled Raanta to be the club’s third string goaltender.

“I’m not that kind of guy that I would say something like that, and hope my team to lose, even if I’m not paying goalie,” Raanta said.

Chicago dealt Raanta to the New York Rangers in June.

For those wondering, the Rangers open their regular season schedule on Oct. 7 in Chicago.

Ex-‘Hawks goalie Raanta tees off on former club

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Former Chicago netminder Antti Raanta — traded to the Rangers at the draft after losing his backup gig to Scott Darling — was apparently none too pleased with how his time as a Blackhawk ended.

From Finnish news outlet Ilta-Sanomat:

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Despite posting relatively solid numbers over parts of two seasons with Chicago — 34-20-9, .912 save percentage, 2.41 GAA — Raanta fell out of favor with head coach Joel Quenneville last year, and was eventually supplanted by Darling, who briefly took over the No. 1 gig during the playoffs.

In that same Ilta-Sanomat interview, Raanta touched on his relationship with coach Q.

From Puck Daddy:

According to Raanta, Blackhawks were suffering of weak team spirit and head coach Joel Quenneville didn’t seem to like him. 

“I noticed that coach didn’t like me, in that position it is pretty difficult to fight the windmills,” Raanta said.

Last season, Raanta was demoted to AHL Rockford in February after allowing two goals on 16 shots in a loss to the Bruins, Chicago’s fifth loss in seven games on an eight-game homestand.

Darling was promoted, and the B’s game proved be Raanta’s last in a ‘Hawks uniform.

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