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.

Video: Predators even series with Sharks after franchise-record triple OT thriller

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The marathon is over. The Nashville Predators are back in the series.

The Predators have evened their best-of-seven second-round series with the San Jose Sharks at two-games apiece after Mike Fisher finally broke the deadlock with 8:48 remaining in the third overtime of an instant classic in these 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Fisher buried a rebound in front of the San Jose net to give the Predators a massive 4-3 win on home ice.

The goal capped off a frenetic (and lengthy) overtime session that was nothing but utter chaos at times in the opening extra frame. By the end, Fisher was almost too exhausted to describe the winner. Can you blame him?

Twice, the Sharks, who could’ve put the Predators on the brink of elimination with a win, thought they had scored the winner. Joel Ward couldn’t quite bury a wrap-around attempt before just about every player on the ice, it seemed, converged in the Nashville crease — some working to put the puck in the net, others working to keep the puck out.

The puck, somehow, never crossed the line, though some members of the Sharks raised their arms in celebration as if they had the decisive goal.

Later in the first OT period, the Sharks again thought they had won the game, only to have a lengthy and controversial review determine Joe Pavelski “…made incidental contact with Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne before the puck crossed the goal line, preventing Rinne from doing his job in the crease,” according to the league.

Adding to it all, the Predators were unsuccessful on two OT power plays. That opened the door for the Sharks, who were awarded power plays on two Shea Weber penalties in overtime but also couldn’t capitalize.

The Predators were less than five minutes away from losing this game in regulation, and going down 3-1 in the series, before James Neal tied it with 4:21 remaining.

‘We earned it,’ says Spezza after Stars regroup to even series with Blues

St. Louis Blues goalie Jake Allen (34) looks on as Dallas Stars forward Jason Spezza, second from right, is congratulated by teammates after scoring a goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, March 12, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)
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The Dallas Stars faced the possibility of going home facing elimination. That was the scenario Thursday, as the Stars battled the St. Louis Blues in Game 4.

The previous game didn’t go well at all for the Stars. They were thumped 6-1, as things turned nasty between the two teams, and, most importantly, they fell behind in the series. There were serious questions surrounding their goalie duo that includes Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi. And Tyler Seguin was ruled out for Game 4.

Yes, things weren’t working in favor of the Stars.

But after a poor start in the opening period Thursday, the Stars fought back with Cody Eakin playing the unlikely overtime hero in a crucial Game 4 win. And Lehtonen was able to settle in after allowing that Vladimir Tarasenko goal in the opening period, stopping 24 of 26 shots.

“You really do have to stay level,” Jason Spezza told the Dallas Morning News.

“It’s the best two-of-three now, it’s momentum swings. We survived some breakaways, and the last two periods we played right and we earned it.”

Video: Game 4 overtime between Sharks and Predators has been utter chaos

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Overtime between the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks in Game 4 has been, simply put, crazy.

Take, for instance, this goal-mouth scramble around the Predators crease in which Joel Ward couldn’t convert on the wrap-around and the sequence turned into a full-on scrum as players for both teams fought desperately to either score or somehow keep the puck out of the net. Somehow, the puck stays out.

The Predators need a win to even the series. The Sharks can put the Predators on the brink of elimination with a win.

Oh, and the controversial video review as the Sharks thought they had the winner, as Joe Pavelski swept the puck into the net after a collision with Pekka Rinne.

Here’s an explanation from the NHL Situation Room:

At 7:34 of overtime in the Sharks/Predators game, the Situation Room initiated a review under the terms of a Coach’s Challenge to review the “Interference on the Goalkeeper” decision that resulted in a “no goal” call.

After reviewing all available replays and consulting with NHL Hockey Operations staff, the Referee confirmed that San Jose’s Joe Pavelski made incidental contact with Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne before the puck crossed the goal line, preventing Rinne from doing his job in the crease.

Therefore the original call stands – no goal San Jose Sharks.

Cody Eakin plays unlikely hero as Stars even series with Blues thanks to OT win

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Needing a win to even the series with the St. Louis Blues, the Dallas Stars didn’t get off to the greatest start Thursday.

On a rather embarrassing play in the first period of a crucial Game 4, the Stars were caught on the television feed clearly with six skaters on the ice, but still surrendered a breakaway goal on a stretch pass to a wide open Vladimir Tarasenko — 1-0 Blues. Again, not a great start for the Stars.

Sometimes in hockey, it’s apparently not always about how you start but how you finish. The Stars gained strength during the second period on goals from Radek Faksa and Patrick Sharp just 1:09 apart. Early in overtime, Cody Eakin scored his first goal of these playoffs to give the Stars a 3-2 win.

This series is now tied heading back to Dallas for Game 5. For the Blues, it’s a missed opportunity to put the high-flying Stars on the brink of elimination.

Eakin snapped a 17-game scoring drought that stretched into late-March of the regular season by going top shelf, short side of Blues goalie Brian Elliott just 2:58 into the extra period.

Jamie Benn and Patrick Sharp each had two-point nights for Dallas, assisting on the game winning goal.