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.

Johansen is a ‘little disappointed’ the Blue Jackets didn’t recognize him in return to Columbus

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - JANUARY 19:  Ryan Johansen #92 of the Nashville Predators skates against Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks during the first period at Bridgestone Arena on January 19, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
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Ryan Johansen played 309 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets before a blockbuster trade to Nashville last January.

On Sunday, he finally made his return back to Columbus as a member of the Predators. However, he did not receive any sort of tribute whatsoever from the team that originally selected him fourth overall in the 2010 draft, and that is something that apparently bothered him.

“I am a little disappointed they didn’t put anything on the Jumbotron and say ‘thank you’ or anything like that,” Johansen told the Columbus Post-Dispatch. “I think we all know who made that call, but whatever.”

While Johansen enjoyed some productive seasons with the Blue Jackets, his time in Columbus, particularly his final months, were dogged with contentious headlines about his contract negotiations with the club and then his working relationship with coach John Tortorella.

Johansen, now 24 years old, has nine goals and 40 points in 58 games this season for Nashville. Currently in the final year of his three-year, $12 million contract, he’s a restricted free agent at the end of this season.

Make that four straight wins for the Bruins

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Brent Burns turned in a dominating performance. But Brad Marchand had the last laugh.

Marchand scored his 25th goal of the season and, more importantly, the overtime winner for the Boston Bruins as they defeated the San Jose Sharks 2-1 on Sunday.

That’s Boston’s fourth consecutive win since the controversial coaching change — which took another twist earlier in the week when the rival Montreal Canadiens fired Michel Therrien and hired Claude Julien. Off a defensive zone faceoff, Marchand bolted up the ice for the breakaway pass, on what appeared to be a set play, beating Martin Jones through the legs.

The Bruins move back into third in the Atlantic Division, and are now only four points back of the faltering Habs for first.

Meanwhile, the Sharks were unable to fully capitalize on another freakish Brent Burns outing. He’s been dubbed ‘an unstoppable force’ in recent posts at PHT — a defenseman possessing great size at six-foot-five-inches tall and 230 pounds, but no shortage of mobility and offensive talent with 27 goals and 64 points in 60 games. Um, and did we mention he’s a defenseman. . . ?

Against the Bruins, he had 20 shot attempts — by far the most of any player in this game — in just over 26 minutes of ice time.

Given the final score, that probably doesn’t mean much to Brad Marchand.

Jacob Trouba will have a hearing for head shot on Mark Stone

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It appears Jacob Trouba will face supplemental discipline from the NHL.

The league’s Department of Player Safety has said in a Twitter statement that Trouba, the Winnipeg Jets defenseman, will have a hearing tomorrow for his head shot on Ottawa Senators forward Mark Stone during Sunday’s game.

Trouba was assessed only a minor penalty on the play. Stone, who dealt with a concussion prior to the beginning of the season, stayed down on the ice before he eventually made his way to the dressing room.

The incident occurred when Trouba stepped up to throw a hit on Stone, but instead caught him in the head as he followed through, sending Stone to the ice.

Stone was one of three Ottawa forwards to leave the game because of injuries, which are piling up for the Senators.

Video: Drouin ‘wasn’t going to be denied’ on thrilling OT winner

TAMPA, FL - APRIL 30:  Jonathan Drouin #27 of the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrates his goal against the New York Islanders  during the first period in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on April 30, 2016 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Scott Iskowitz/Getty Images)
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The Tampa Bay Lightning needed overtime to defeat the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday, but it’s a critical win for the Bolts as they try to chase down a playoff spot.

The hero? Jonathan Drouin, and he did so with a thrilling individual effort — making moves, then losing the puck and then immediately getting it back before he finally scored on the backhander.

That’s his 17th goal of the season. Tampa Bay gets a 3-2 win, which keeps them five points back of Toronto for the final wild card spot in the East.