All three of the games I targeted as “the best games of the night” ended up in some hard-fought shutouts. Two of them came from Finnish goalies and all of them came from guys who may have been expected to be backups (but are looking likely to usurp their “superiors”) this season.
- For the Chicago Blackhawks, the shutout showed that the Western Conference may indeed have a true favorite. They pulled a point ahead of San Jose (who finally broke their dry spell against Minnesota tonight) and temporarily deflated Phoenix’s Cinderella run. Antti Niemi hasn’t put up amazing stats (at least from a save percentage standpoint) but it’s hard to argue with his 19-5-3 mark in Chicago. Could Niemi be the Blackhawks’ answer in net right now?
- If you ask me, the other Finnish once-expected backup (Tuukka Rask in Boston) is the answer for the Bruins. He earned a goose egg for the team as they dominated ninth-seed Atlanta 4-0 tonight. The Bruins have won two huge games against the two most likely threats to their playoff lives and Rask has allowed one goal on 51 shots in the last two games. Might want to wait until next year to revive your career, Tim Thomas.
- Ottawa affirmed their status as a rugged playoff team after a contentious game against the Philadelphia Flyers tonight. It was a brutal bout at times, with Anton Volcenkov figuring into much of the violence. Brian Elliott was supposed to backup the more expensive (but free-falling) Pascal Leclaire, but he’s often been the more stable goalie of the two.
The Bruins and Senators lack the breathing room to “test the water” to see which goalie they prefer but it might be true that the Blackhawks should also go with the “hot hand” in net. Either way, all three teams won some big games while keeping their opponents off the scoreboard. We’ll have more on the playoff implications of these wins tomorrow.