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

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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.

WATCH LIVE: Game 2 for Rangers-Senators, Penguins-Capitals

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The New York Rangers will need to find a way to slow down Erik Karlsson on Saturday afternoon if they are going to avoid falling into a 2-0 series hole against the Ottawa Senators, while the Washington Capitals will have to do the same against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Both games on Saturday will be broadcast on NBC and be streamed online.

Here is all of the information you need for today’s games.

New York Rangers vs. Ottawa Senators

Time: 3:00 p.m. ET

Network: NBC (Stream Online Here)

Announcers: John Forslund, Brian Boucher

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals

Time: 8:00 p.m. ET

Network: NBC (Stream Online Here)

Announcers: Mike Emrick, Ed Olczyk, Pierre McGuire

The NHL Draft Lottery is tonight, here are the odds for every team and TV information

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Saturday night is going to be a big night for the 14 NHL teams that did not qualify for the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs because one of them will be the lucky winner of the 2017 NHL Draft Lottery, giving them the No. 1 pick in the draft.

While there probably isn’t going to be a Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews at the top of this year’s class, the top-two prospects (Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier) both have huge potential.

The Colorado Avalanche, owners of the NHL’s worst record in 2016-17, have the best odds at winning the lottery. The Avalanche last selected first overall in 2013 when they picked Nathan MacKinnon. New York Islanders have a less than one percent chance of winning.

The expansion Vegas Golden Knights have a 10.3 percent chance of winning the top pick.

Here is everything you need to know about tonight’s lottery

When: 8 p.m. ET, just prior to faceoff of Game 2 of the Pittsburgh Penguins-Washington Capitals second-round playoff series

TV: NBC

Odds for every team in the lottery:

Colorado Avalanche — 18.0%

Vancouver Canucks — 12.1%

Vegas Golden Knights — 10.3%

Arizona Coyotes — 10.3%

New Jersey Devils — 8.5%

Buffalo Sabres — 7.6%

Detroit Red Wings — 6.7%

Dallas Stars — 5.8%

Florida Panthers — 5.4%

Los Angeles Kings — 4.5%

Carolina Hurricanes — 3.2%

Winnipeg Jets — 2.7%

Philadelphia Flyers — 2.2%

Tampa Bay Lightning 1.8%

New York Islanders — 0.9%

The NHL draft will be held on Friday, June 23 (first round) and Saturday, June 24 (rounds two through seven) at United Center in Chicago.

Paul Carey replaces Brett Connolly for Capitals in Game 2

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After dropping Game 1 of their second-round playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night, the Washington Capitals are making a minor lineup change on Saturday for Game 2 of the series when Paul Carey replaces Brett Connolly on the team’s fourth line.

Carey, 28, appeared in only six games for the Capitals this season and did not record a point. He has one goal and one assist in 32 career NHL games with the Colorado Avalanche and Capitals, and appeared in three playoff games for the Avalanche back in 2014.

Given how Connolly’s ice time has been decreasing over the past few games this postseason it probably should not be too much of a surprise that he is now being removed from the lineup. After logging at least 10 minutes of ice time in each of the Capitals’ first three playoff games, he has not played more than 6:12 in each of the past four.

Coach Barry Trotz said on Saturday that he likes Carey’s speed in the lineup against the faster Penguins.

Connolly scored 15 goals in 66 regular season games for the Capitals this season.

In other Capitals lineup news, there is no change in the status of defenseman Karl Alzner as he will remain out of the lineup. He has been sidelined since Game 3 of their first-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs with an upper-body injury. Nate Schmidt will continue to take his place.

Scott Darling trade ‘worth the risk’ for Hurricanes

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The Carolina Hurricanes made a somewhat surprising move on Friday night when they acquired goaltender Scott Darling from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for a third-round draft pick in 2017.

On the surface it looks like a good move for both the team and the player. Goaltending has been a major thorn in the Hurricanes’ side for several years now, while Darling has probably earned the opportunity to be a No. 1 goalie in the NHL after performing extremely well as Corey Crawford‘s backup in Chicago.

The risk for the Hurricanes is that Darling will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1, and they will have to get him signed to a new contract before then to avoid potentially losing him (and the third-round pick they sent to Chicago) for nothing.

Shortly after the trade on Friday, Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis said all of that was worth the risk because the team has accumulated so many draft picks in this year’s class.

“This is a bit of a gamble but one we believed was worth taking,” Francis told Chip Alexander of the News & Observer. “This is why we accumulated these picks and we still have 10 left. It was worth the risk.”

He added that they would “like to get something done sooner rather than later.”

The duo of Cam Ward and Eddie Lack finished the 2016-17 season with a .901 save percentage, 26th in the NHL. The Hurricanes have finished higher than 25th just once in the past five years. The Hurricanes have solid young core of talent in place and a defense that allowed the fifth fewest shots on goal in the entire league this season. Solidifying the goaltending position would go a long way toward ending the team’s current eight year playoff drought.