NHL Playoffs, Blackhawks vs. Sharks, Game 4: This year, Antti Niemi is the difference

1 Comment

Niemi5.jpgChicago
Blackhawks vs. San Jose Sharks, Game 4

3:00 p.m. EDT, May 23, 2010
Live on NBC

Blackhawks lead series 3-0

Heading into the playoffs, there were a number of
players that you could expect to step up and be the difference maker for
the Chicago Blackhawks. Duncan Keith, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp; even
Marian Hossa had the potential to be a surprise once the playoffs
started. It happens every year: a successful team in the playoffs needs
not just it’s best players to step up but the role players and the
fringe players as well.

You always hope that the Sidney Crosby’s, Alex
Ovechkin’s and Nicklas Lidstrom’s would be at their best in the
postseason, but if this year has taught us anything it’s that there’s no
way a team can advance without more than just some help to take the
pressure off the top players.

Last year it was Evgeni Malkin.

The year before it was Henrik Zetterberg.

This season, for the Chicago Blackhawks, it’s…..Antti
Niemi?

The Finnish goaltender played 39 games for the
Blackhawks this past season and has just 42 games under his belt in the
NHL. He was an unknown goaltender two years ago, a player no one thought
twice about until video of his play was sent to the Blackhawks. He was
never expected to be this important for the Hawks, yet he was to whom
the team turned to be their playoff goaltender when Cristobal Huet
eventually fell apart.

Coming out of the Olympic break, and directly into the
trade deadline, the Blackhawks steadfastly stood by their goaltending
situation despite outcries from every corner that things would fall
apart once the postseason began. It appears that the Hawks never really
considered a move at the deadline — and in reality, the price was going
to be extremely steep — and headed into the second part of the season
with all of their faith in Huet.

He played in just six games after the Olympic break,
starting five and losing three. Antti Niemi didn’t do much to steal the
job himself and coach Joel Quenneville implored for one of these two
goaltenders to do something, anything to step up and prove they deserved
the job in the postseason. Eventually, Niemi was named the goaltender
for the Hawks in the postseason and mainly because he just the “he’s not
as bad as Huet” option. The high-priced goaltender last appeared for
the Sharks on March 25th, allowing seven goals in a blowout loss to the
Columbus Blue Jackets.

Now, Niemi has advanced from steady playoff goaltender
to miracle worker in net for the Blackhawks and in three games has shown
that all the worries about goaltending in the playoffs were far from
warranted.

The Blackhawks have played inspired hockey for two
straight series now after seemingly sleepwalking against the Predators.
Against the Canucks, it was their antagonizing approach that set off
Roberto Luongo and gave them the edge they needed against a team that
some — including myself — were convinced was more talented than the
Hawks. Yet against the Sharks, a team that has played with their backs
against the wall since Game 1, it’s been Niemi that’s been the edge and
inspiration the Hawks have rallied behind.

He’s certainly hasn’t been perfect, but he’s been as
close as can be expected. In game’s 1 and 3 combined he faced 91 shots
and allowed just three. Under barrage in the third period in Game 3
Niemi stopped 17 of 18 shots while his team was under incredible
pressure by the Sharks.

Coming into the postseason it was thought that if the
Niemi could at least provide decent goaltending then the Blackhawks
would at least have a better shot than last season. Heading into Game 4,
with a chance to eliminate the Sharks and move on to the Stanley Cup
finals, he’s been much, much more than just ‘decent’.

He’s inspired, he’s playing confident and he’s tracking
the puck and moving laterally as well as I’ve ever seen from Niemi. He’s
become better as the playoffs continue and for the Blackhawks who made
very little changes after last year’s disappointment, it seems that
Antti Niemi is the difference maker that Chicago needed. Not Hossa, not
Keith and not Kane; it was none other than Annti Niemi.

‘We should be embarrassed’: Blashill rips Red Wings after latest loss

Getty
1 Comment

The Detroit Red Wings got off to a terrific start in 2017-18, as they were able to collect victories in four of their first five games of the season.

What made their start even more impressive, is that four of their first five contests were played on the road. They opened the season with a home win against Minnesota, and then took home two points in Ottawa, Arizona and Vegas. Their lone loss came in Dallas.

That positive start seems like it was a lifetime ago. The Red Wings have now dropped four games in a row to Tampa Bay, Toronto, Washington and Vancouver.

After Sunday night’s loss to the Canucks, head coach Jeff Blashill had some choice words for his team’s lack of desire.

“It was a brutal effort,” Blashill said, per MLive.com. “I thought it was an embarrassing effort, not even close to the level of competitiveness you have to have. We should be embarrassed of ourselves, from me at the top all the way on down. We got out-competed, outworked, out-detailed.”

Detroit was outshot (37-21) and outchanced by a significant margin. And no disrespect to the Canucks, but they aren’t exactly a top team in the league.

(As you may have guessed, the Canucks are represented by the light blue line in hockeystats.ca’s possession chart).

Things aren’t going to get any easier for the Wings. They’re going to spend the week on the road (they’ll play three games in five days), as they’ll travel to Buffalo, Tampa Bay and Florida.

PHT Morning Skate: On David Booth escaping death last summer

Getty
2 Comments

–The Flyers will be without Andrew MacDonald for a month. That might open the door for youngster Samuel Morin, who made the roster out of training camp. Morin’s NHL-ready, per the Flyers, so it’ll be interesting to see how he fits in. (Courrier-Post)

–Team USA and Team Canada’s Women’s teams played the first game of the “The Time is Now Tour” in preparation for the 2018 Olympics. Team USA came out on top. (USA Hockey)

–The Score takes a look at three teams that made a big statement over the weekend. The Maple Leafs bandwagon has picked up a lot of steam since last season, but the Senators took care of them on Saturday night. (The Score)

–The Colorado Avalanche look better this year than they did all of last season, but they’ve been hit by injuries lately. Both Tyson Jost and J.T. Compher will miss an extended period of time. (Denver Post)

Riley Sheahan went 79 games without a goal last year, but the Penguins felt like a fresh start in a new city is exactly what he needed, so they went out and acquired him from Detroit over the weekend.  “It’s been a crazy last day, but I’m looking forward to the opportunity. I’m leaving behind a great organization and some great teammates, but I’m definitely excited for the change of scenery and to get started with such an awesome organization.” (Pittsburgh Tribune)

–David Booth, who is a trained pilot, had a scary experience last summer. After getting an invite to Ducks training camp at the last minute, he decided to fly to Anaheim on his own. Booth had some tense moments in the air after his engine failed. Thankfully, the story has a happy ending. (Sportsnet)

–Youngster Anthony Beauvillier has faced some adversity already this season. After a couple of mediocre performances, Beauvillier was made a healthy scratch. Now, he’s out to prove he belongs in the lineup every night. “You can always find positive things out of that but you never want to sit for a game,” Beauvillier said. “It’s kind of hard. You’ve just got to keep working hard when it does happen. You just have to go out there and make sure it doesn’t happen again.” (thesportsdaily.com)

–The Edmonton Oilers swapped Jordan Eberle to the Isles for Ryan Strome. Unfortunately for them, the deal hasn’t worked out so far, but there’s still plenty of time for Strome to figure things out. (Oilersnation.com)

–The Golden Knights have had some tough luck when it comes to keeping goalies healthy. Marc-Andre Fleury and Malcolm Subban are both out of the lineup right now. Don’t expect them to make a trade for a goalie because this season isn’t about wins and losses. It looks like Oscar Dansk will be their guy. (sinbin.vegas)

Niklas Kronwall, who played in his 800th game on Saturday night, has had plenty of issues with his left knee. In an attempt to get healthy, Kronwall admitted to trying stem cell therapy. “When you get to this point, you’re basically trying everything. That’s definitely something that’s out there and I think it’s becoming more and more, I don’t know if popular is the word.” (Detroit Free Press)

Max Pacioretty and the Montreal Canadiens are off to an awful start. As the losses continue to pile up, so does trade speculation. But Habs Eyes on the Prize believes that trading Pacioretty away would be a huge mistake. (Habs Eyes on the Prize)

–Speaking of the Habs, Andrew Shaw was accused of using a homophobic slur in Anaheim on Friday night, but the NHL looked into the matter and decided he didn’t do what he was accused of doing. As you may remember, Shaw was suspended one game for using a homophobic slur a couple of years ago. (TSN.ca)

Jack Hughes, 2019 NHL top prospect, scores brilliant solo goal (Video)

USHL / YouTube
2 Comments

USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program side is off to a great start in the United States Hockey League this season. They’ve won their first four games, are the highest scoring team in the league (27) and may have already locked up goal of the season.

Jack Hughes, a 2019 NHL draft prospect, made the Green Bay Gamblers defense look mighty silly during a 6-4 win on Sunday afternoon.

At first watch, if you’re strictly paying attention to Hughes, you might think Team USA is on a power play. But then you realize there are five skaters in black despite what seems like a lot of space for the 16-year-old to work with.

Hughes, who’s tied for second in league scoring with seven points, finished with three points on the afternoon and is already being dubbed the “Next One.” We’ll be hearing a lot of his name over the next year and a half as June 2019 approaches.

“He’s a special player,” said Barrie Colts head coach Dale Hawerchuk to the Toronto Sun’s Mike Traikos last spring. Hawerchuk had planned on taking Hughes No. 1 overall in last year’s OHL draft before he decided to go the NTDP route. “He’s so fast and a such a great skater. But he’s also got great instincts. He thinks the game on another level.”

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

The Buzzer: Canucks continue Red Wings’ slide

Getty
3 Comments

Player of the Night: Sven Baertschi

Last season, Baertschi was a bright spot for a dismal Vancouver Canucks team, generating new career-highs in goals (18) and points (35) in 68 regular-season games.

The 25-year-old carried over some of that momentum early on, generating three points in seven games, but they were all assists. Sunday marked his best moment of 2017-18, as Baertschi scored his first two goals of the campaign (giving him five points in eight contests).

Bo Horvat is the honorable mention in the Canucks’ 4-1 win against the Detroit Red Wings, collecting his first two assists of the season. Jake Virtanen also found the net for his first goal of the season.

(As an aside, Derek Dorsett somehow has five goals already in 2017-18. Dorsett’s career-high is 12 goals, but he’s already in range of tying his second-best mark of seven.)

Highlight of the Night: Why not go with Baertschi’s two goals?

Factoid of the Night: This marks the fourth straight loss for the Red Wings, dropping them to 4-4-1 after a promising 4-1-0 start. But the hits could keep coming.

Beginning with Tuesday’s game against the Sabres in Buffalo, Detroit will play three straight road games and seven of their next eight away from home. The bright side is that they’ll enjoy a ton of contests at their expensive new pad starting in mid-November, but the next few weeks could really dim whatever optimism the Red Wings built up early on.

(For pro-tanking Red Wings fans, this might not be such a bad thing.)

Sunday’s lone score: Canucks 4, Red Wings 1