Niemi shines as Chicago takes Game 1

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2-niemi.jpgWhile we were curious what the storyline would be to develop around the Western Conference finals between Chicago and San Jose, sometimes it takes someone to make their presence known to figure out what, exactly, the story will be. Blackhawks rookie goaltender Antti Niemi decided to announce his presence in a big way in Game 1 leading the Blackhawks to a 2-1 win. Niemi stopped 44 out of 45 shots he saw in Game 1, only a rip from Jason Demers on the power play in the first period would elude him and he was well beyond stellar in stopping San Jose.

Dustin Byfuglien’s slap shot goal off a face off was the game winner with 6:45 left in the third, and a shot that equally outstanding goaltender Evgeni Nabokov (38 saves) couldn’t stop.  With the game played at such a wicked pace and with both teams being outstanding defensively, it’s stunning that both goalies saw as many shots as they did, but they were equal to the task today.

It’s not as if Niemi had an easy day as the Blackhawks would take five minor penalties in the game, including one in the final minute, that essentially put Niemi on the spot. Meanwhile San Jose did not take a single penalty in the game, a point of contention the Blackhawks may have considering most games tend to hash out evenly when it comes to penalties. Then again, Chicago won the game so… What’s there to really complain about?

One fortunate break Chicago got on the final penalty they took is that while it was clear that Dave Bolland tripped Devin Setoguchi, officials Brad Watson and Paul Devorski mistakenly put Kris Versteeg in the box. Bolland wears number 36 and Versteeg wears 32, sometimes mistakes occur, only this time Bolland stayed on the ice and was key to helping kill the first 40 seconds of the penalty.

The Sharks had one final great opportunity on a cross-ice pass to Joe Thornton for a one-timer but the puck went off the heel of his stick and landed harmlessly in the corner for Chicago to obtain and clear from the zone to end the game. I’m sure most folks won’t over-analyze Jumbo Joe not getting a clean shot away in the Conference finals. For Chicago, they continue to roll in the playoffs while the Sharks seemed to expend a lot of their energy through the first 30 minutes of the game. Perhaps getting as much time off as they did did more harm than good. Game 2 will be Tuesday night at the Shark Tank.

PHT Morning Skate: Shane Doan takes a (friendly) shot at the Miracle on Ice

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Shane Doan took a friendly jab at the the movie “Miracle” and the Miracle on Ice. (BarDown)

–The best of the worst Upper Deck hockey cards from 2015-16. (Puck Junk)

–Here’s a list of the top 50 players in WHL history. (WHL)

–Watch the highlights of last night’s game between the Penguins and Capitals. (Top)

–A sad story about how Chris Phillips feels helpless as his hometown of Fort McMurray burns. (CBC)

–“You want to get back into things right away (but) I think these last four or five months have been good for me.” Former Penguins coach Mike Johnston is ready to coach again. (Local XPress)

–Blues forward Jori Lehtera is in a pretty random commercial:

Penguins push Capitals to brink of elimination with OT win

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The Pittsburgh Penguins ended a long run of playoff overtime struggles on Wednesday … and are now one win away from ending the Washington Capitals’ season.

Many expected the Penguins to crater on defense without Kris Letang (they were 2-8-1 in the regular season without him). While there were shaky moments, Pittsburgh emphasized its speed and other strengths in taking a 3-2 overtime thriller against Washington.

With that, the Penguins’ series lead grows to 3-1.

It was a thrilling, sometimes nasty contest, from Sidney Crosby shaking off an Alex Ovechkin slash, to Evgeni Malkin delivering a hit some thought was over the line and plenty of typical playoff skirmishes.

Ultimately, Matt Murray played another strong game and Patric Hornqvist scored the overtime-winner to put the Capitals in a tough spot.

The Penguins lost their previous eight playoff overtime games, so maybe it was just a matter of time before such a game went their way?

Then again, the history between the two teams is a little different:

If the Capitals want to advance beyond the second round for the first time in the Ovechkin era, they’ll need to accomplish quite the feat against arguably the hottest team in the NHL.

Sidney Crosby looks hurt (and furious) after Alex Ovechkin slash

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Sidney Crosby is known to get fiery, but even for his feisty standards, he was furious during the third period of Game 4.

An Alex Ovechkin slash caught Crosby on the hand, leaving the Pittsburgh Penguins star shaking his mitt and pleading for a call.

After that, Crosby left to get his hand looked at … but not before flipping out and destroying his stick.

You can watch it happen in the GIF and the videos above.

Crosby was able to return not that long after that moment, although we can only speculate regarding how his overall game will be affected if his hand isn’t 100 percent.

Dirty or not? Evgeni Malkin’s hit on Daniel Winnik

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Tensions seem to rise with every passing game in the playoffs, particularly in a series with bad blood like the one between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals.

Kris Letang was suspended for his hit in Game 3, and some wonder if Evgeni Malkin should suffer a similar fate for his check on Daniel Winnik on Wednesday.

Winnik left the contest and has not yet returned during the third period.

Take a look at the hit in the video above and decide for yourself.