The first installment of Second City Hockey’s all-2010s lineup challenge focuses on the goaltenders with each writer selecting two that were Blackhawks teammates from the past decade. Or, in short, which goalie would you select to be the backup after having Corey Crawford tabbed as the starter?
Corey Crawford (regular seasons: 260-162-53, 26 SO, 2.45 GAA, .918 SV% in all situations; playoffs: 48-37, 5 SO, 2.28 GAA, .919 SV%)
Scott Darling (regular seasons: 39-17-9, 4 SO, .923 SV%, 2.37 GAA, 17.4 GSAA in all situations; playoffs: 3-1, .936 SV%, 2.28 GAA, 2.45 GSAA)
I went back and forth between Darling and Antti Niemi for Crawford’s backup since both played in the playoffs, so I decided to have some fun with this and let my uncle’s dog (pup sitting at the moment) pick the winner. I put cookies on two plates with Darling’s name on one and Niemi on the other. The pup picked Darling, so I went with the Lemont native. Scott Foster is an honorable mention, of course.
Ray Emery (regular seasons: 32-10-4, 3 SO, .908 SV%, 2.47 GAA; no playoff appearances)
Let’s not overthink this. The best stretch of hockey we saw out of this franchise in the past decade came during the lockout-shortened 2013 season. They didn’t lose in regulation for half the season. Chicago was playing at a 132-point pace, which would’ve surpassed the 128 points amassed by the 2018-19 Lightning. That Chicago team was as dominant as we’ve seen in NHL history, and its ability to throw out two goalies who were capable of stonewalling opponents were vital to that. Emery posted a .922 SV% and a 1.94 GAA during his 21 games, including a virtuoso 45-save performance against the Flames.
Yes, there was an incredible team in front of the Blackhawks goalies that season. But, when needed, Emery could also carry the team to a victory by himself, as he proved against the Flames.
One of the iconic playoff performances from a Blackhawks player in the past decade was when Darling took over in net for Crawford in Game 1 of the 2015 first round matchup with the Predators. Chicago was down 3-0 and things were looking bleak. Darling went on to make 42 saves, gave the Blackhawks a fighting chance to comeback and made an incredible right pad save on Ryan Ellis late in the third period to get the game to overtime.
Darling started four of the next five games in the series making 118 saves on 129 shots (.915 save-percentage), including a 52 save performance in Game 4, and gave Crawford a chance to rest and reboot mentally. After Darling surrendered three goals in the first period of Game 6, Crawford got back in net, was perfect on 13 shots against and Duncan Keith scored the game-winning goal to send Chicago to the second round.
Without Darling in Game 1 and his ability to step up his performance level for the rest of the series when Crawford and the Blackhawks needed him, the 2015 Stanley Cup run wouldn’t have happened.
He was a solid backup in three regular seasons with a .923 save percentage in 75 games and it never felt like the game was lost when he was slated to start.
Antti Raanta (regular season: 20-9-5, 3 SO, .912 SV%, 2.41 GAA, -2.41 GSAA, -3.42 GSAx in all situations, .923 SV% on power play, .906 SV% while shorthanded; no playoff appearances)
I think more than enough reason for Crawford being the best goaltender of the past decade has been provided above, and perhaps not just for the Blackhawks, but on any team. Crawford truly did excel and had some of the most consistent elite-level play of any netminder and was the x-factor behind two Stanley Cup teams, something not many can say (that includes Henrik Lundqvist and John Gibson, his challengers for best goaltender of the decade). We were beginning to see that same Crawford that spurred those Cup runs in 2020, and hopefully additional rest does him nothing but good.
Raanta had a better career after the Blackhawks than with, and had the best decade of any of the goaltenders on this list away from Chicago. But with Chicago, he was the best goaltender at both special teams, dominating with a .906 shorthanded save percentage, and had three shutouts in only 39 games with the Blackhawks. He was the ideal backup to Crawford and has continued to be perhaps the most elite backup since then.