Canes Now

Who’s No. 1? For Darling, it all starts against Wild

The Canes' Scott Darling (33) defends against the Caps' Alex Chiasson (39) during a preseason NHL game at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. on Sept. 29, 2017.
The Canes' Scott Darling (33) defends against the Caps' Alex Chiasson (39) during a preseason NHL game at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. on Sept. 29, 2017. cseward@newsobserver.com

Scott Darling tries not to listen to the chatter but it’s hard to ignore.

Darling was brought in to be the Carolina Hurricanes’ No. 1 goalie.

Darling is the guy needed to take the Canes to the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2009.

So it has gone since Darling was traded to Carolina in April by the Chicago Blackhawks. So much points to him.

“It’s all talk,” Darling said this week. “That’s all it is.”

Canes coach Bill Peters announced Darling, not Cam Ward, would be the starting goalie Saturday when Carolina opens the 2017-18 season against the Minnesota Wild at PNC Arena.

That has to mean something about the goalie pecking order, yes?

“Cam’s a great goalie, and Cam’s looked great in training camp,” Darling said. “All I can do is play the best I can and all the rest of that stuff is up to the coaches, not up to me.

“I’m here, I’m going to work my hardest and try my best. I want to be No. 1 and so does Cam. So it’s going to be healthy for both of us.”

Darling, slowed by some minor injuries, was limited to two preseason appearances and didn’t face a lot of shots. The Canes played well enough in front of him both games in beating the Edmonton Oilers and Washington Capitals.

Darling, 28, said the two games, plus the practice time in training camp were enough to test him and get hims ready for the regular season.

“It would have been nice to get more time but two 60-minutes is probably all I need,” he said.

One thing about Darling: he swallows up the net. Fully bearded, he’s a bear of a guy at 6-6 and 232 pounds..

“He’s huge,” defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk said. “He takes up a lot of that net, but he moves really well. He’s really athletic for a big guy, and he makes saves that leave you saying, ‘Wow.’ He’s an impressive goalie to watch.”

Van Riemsdyk would know, having played with Darling the past three years in Chicago. They won Stanley Cup rings together with the Blackhawks in 2015 and now find themselves about to begin a new season with a new team.

“He’s a great guy,” van Riemsdyk said. “He’s a hard-working guy, but away from the rink he’s fun to be around. He’s got a great personality, always cracking jokes.

“He’s one of those guys in the locker room, he’s fun to be around. And when he’s on the ice, he’s tough to score on.”

Darling was the perfect complement to Corey Crawford in Chicago. Playing a total of 61 games the past two seasons, he had a 30-13-9 record, going 18-5-5 in 2016-17 with a 2.38 goals-against average and .924 save percentage.

Darling’s 32 appearances last season were his NHL career high and the Canes are counting on a lot more – surely something in the 50s.

That would be a big workload for a goalie who hasn’t played more than 36 games since 2007-08, when he was in 45 regular-season and playoff games for the Indiana Ice of the USHL.

Canes general manager Ron Francis had to make a change after last season, when Ward and backup goalie Eddie Lack were painfully inconsistent at times. In came Darling, who agreed to a four-year, $16.6 million contract.

It’s not Chicago, where Darling’s family lives in the suburbs and where he grew up. It’s not the Blackhawks.

But he’s getting a chance to be a No. 1 goalie, starting Saturday against the Wild.

“There’s a lot to like here,” he said.

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