'Brutal' late collapse leaves Blackhawks seeing Stars

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'Brutal' late collapse leaves Blackhawks seeing Stars

The Blackhawks were clinging onto their 1-0 lead, with about 10 minutes separating them from their fifth consecutive victory and their first shutout of the season.

But about 10 minutes later, both of those possibilities were gone.

Marian Hossa scored his 24th goal of the season but the Dallas Stars scored three unanswered goals in the final 10:35 of the game to beat the Blackhawks 3-1 at the United Center on Thursday night. The Blackhawks had their four-game winning streak snapped and remain in sixth place, but failed to gain ground on fifth-place Nashville.

The Blackhawks were once again without captain Jonathan Toews, who was already out with an upper-body injury and then was in a minor one-car accident Thursday morning. Coach Joel Quenneville said Toews was at the game and is fine. Its undetermined if Toews will go on the Los AngelesAnaheim trip.

The loss was tough enough; but it was the way the Blackhawks lost that had Quenneville frustrated. The Blackhawks knew it was going to be a tight, close game, and the third-period lapses were costly.

Tough, tough, tough, brutal, Quenneville said of the waning minutes. These points were very valuable and we can look and say we gave them away. Tonight we didnt do enough to deserve the win and it was right in our hands and let it get away.

Hossa scored after a Michael Frolik steal midway through the second, when the Blackhawks outshot the Stars 16-5. But the third went the exact opposite way. The Stars found energy, and the Blackhawks inability to clear a few times led to a few Stars goals. Steve Ott and Michael Ryder had tip-in goals in front and Loui Eriksson knocked in a Ryder shot that deflected off Brent Seabrook.

We make a little mistake and couldnt clear the puck. They got (two tipped goals) and then the third we tried to defend on it too much, said Hossa, who had to leave the ice briefly to shake off blocking a Sheldon Souray shot. Some nights you have to grind like that. But the third period wasnt our best.

Viktor Stalberg said its a tough one to swallow when they score like that. We have to be better blocking those shots, not giving up those tips in front. Its a game, weve been playing pretty solid the last couple of games and we have to get back to that.

The Blackhawks tests continue this weekend, with back-to-back road games in Los Angeles and Anaheim. The Blackhawks have been playing pretty good hockey as of late. Theyd just rather forget the final 10 minutes or so of this one.

We didnt generate a whole lot (offensively) but we knew it was that kind of game, Quenneville said. We didnt have to do too much with the puck. We just had to get a couple of them out. To me that was the differential.

Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling taking advantage of No. 1 reps

Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling taking advantage of No. 1 reps

Life as a backup goaltender can be difficult. 

The job entails being prepared at all times and performing at a high level when your number is called despite going sometimes weeks without seeing any action.

With Corey Crawford backing up Team Canada at the World Cup of Hockey, Scott Darling is getting the No. 1 reps in the crease for the Blackhawks.

And he's taking full advantage of that.

"Yeah, obviously I miss Corey, but it's fun to be the guy right now," Darling said following a 2-0 loss in Wednesday's preseason opener to the Pittsburgh Penguins. "I'll take any starts I can get. I don't care if it's regular season or preseason, I just want to play as much as I can. It was nice to get the first game under my belt."

After facing just three shots in the first period, Darling stayed on his toes by denying all 23 shots he saw in the second period — a handful of them on the penalty kill.

"I definitely don't like sitting there," Darling said of the first period. "I don't think they had a shot for about 12 minutes, but you've got to learn how to play in those situations too. It's nice to get some game feels."

Darling finished with 33 saves overall in the Blackhawks' loss and was sharp in the first dress rehearsal of the year as both goals were out of his control — a redirect on the power play and a rebound tap-in at the doorstep, both by Chris Kunitz.

Credit his strong play to working hard in the offseason and maximizing on the opportunity he's been given.

"Darling certainly was a standout, not only when we got a little bit overwhelmed in the second period, but really throughout the game," Blackhawks assistant coach Kevin Dineen said. "He was certainly a positive, which we always expect out of him but I think it's a testament to the way he prepared himself this summer and I think it certainly showed tonight." 

Darling doesn't get many chances to anchor the blue paint on a nightly basis.

He started in 24 games last season, 11 of which came during the final portion of the season in March and April when Crawford was dealing with an upper-body injury.

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Darling said that stretch was "probably the best I've ever felt" because you know you're the guy, which eliminates the stress factor of turning in a great performance to earn your next start.

He finished the 2015-16 campaign with a 12-8-4 record, 2.58 goals against average and .915 save percentage, including one shutout.

Not bad, not great. 

This season is a chance to prove he can continue to be a consistent and reliable goaltender in any situation, and when the 27-year-old Lemont native gets the opportunity to represent the team he grew up rooting for — something he never loses sight of — Darling expects to be on top of his game when called upon.

"I'm seriously excited to be on the Chicago Blackhawks still," he said. "I just want to play the best I can when they give me a chance to play."

Nick Schmaltz making good early impression with Blackhawks

Nick Schmaltz making good early impression with Blackhawks

Nick Schmaltz figured it would be different at this level.

Yes, Schmaltz had played against some of college’s best en route to that national title with the University of North Dakota. But the pro level is the pro level for a reason.

“It’s a big transition from the college level. Guys are faster, more skilled, and you have less time and space,” he said. “But as camp’s gone on everyone’s gotten a little more comfortable and making more plays and I think we’ll continue that into tonight.”

Schmaltz looked pretty comfortable on Wednesday night, when the Blackhawks lost their preseason opener to the Pittsburgh Penguins, 2-0. Schmaltz logged 18 minutes, 30 seconds of ice time, including 2:53 on the power play. For the Madison, Wisc., kid who used to come to Blackhawks playoff games, playing that first game at the United Center was “surreal.”

“It was good,” he said after the game. “Obviously we didn’t get the results we wanted, but we had some good opportunities. We can get more pucks on net. We let the goalie off a little easy, but hopefully just keep building and keep getting better every day.”

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Schmaltz has practiced some on the left wing, and that’s where he was in Wednesday night’s scrimmage (with Vinnie Hinostroza centering and Richard Panik on right wing). The Blackhawks always love versatility, but Schmaltz going on the wing is more of a need than an option right now.

“Most of the openings in the organization are on the wing. We’re pretty full down the middle. It’s something we’re trying to see if he can fit in there and play well there,” assistant coach Mike Kitchen said. “And he’s got a nice set of hands, a nice skill set, so hopefully he’ll be comfortable on the wing there.”

Schmaltz has played more right wing than left, but he said the adjustments aren’t so bad.

“Just wall work. Might have to make some backhand plays off the wall but other than that, nothing, really,” Schmaltz said. “Since me and Panik are playing off wing, we’ll get across the blue line, cut across and make plays to each other. It’ll be fun out there.”

Schmaltz held his own in his first game in a Blackhawks uniform. There are high expectations for him entering this season, but he’ll let his game dictate where he ends up.

“If I play my game, play hard, I should put myself in a pretty good spot,” he said. “But I can’t control what decisions they make, so I’ll compete as hard as I can every night and show them what I can do.”