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.

Flames win in OT, setting up a four-team race for Pacific Division title

Getty
1 Comment

ST. LOUIS (AP) Sean Monahan likes working overtime. The Calgary Flames forward proved it again Saturday night.

Monahan scored with 3 seconds left in overtime, lifting the Flames past the St. Louis Blues 3-2. Troy Brouwer and Matt Bartkowski also scored for the Flames, who improved to 13-4 in overtime this season. Brian Elliott made 29 saves.

Monahan’s winning goal deflected off of Blues forward Kyle Brodziak. It was his third goal in his last four games.

“You never know, when you throw pucks at the net, anything can happen,” Monahan said. “That’s a good bounce, a lucky bounce and we’ll take it.”

Monahan set the Flames franchise record with the seventh regular-season overtime goal of his career. He also has seven career shootout winners.

Flames coach Glen Gulutzan didn’t know what happened at first immediately after the game-winner.

“I jumped when everybody else jumped and it was kind of like, I didn’t get the joke, right?” Gulutzan said. “Everybody got the joke, I didn’t. I just jumped because I saw everybody else jump. So now I’ve got to take a look at it now.”

Ivan Barbashev and Jaden Schwartz scored for the Blues, who had their four-game winning streak snapped. Jake Allen made 28 saves and all three goals he gave up went off of teammates.

“You feel bad for Jake when he played the way he did,” Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said. “If you give up three goals off your own guys, it means probably, for the most part, you’re doing a good job defensively. Some tough bounces there, but we got a point out of it.”

The Blues fell one point behind Nashville for third in the Central Division with 86 points and eight games to go. St. Louis trails Calgary by two points for the top wild-card spot.

The Flames snapped a two-game skid, salvaging the finale of a three-game road trip.

“It was a quick-paced game and it was pretty physical and it was back and forth all night, but we feel good right now and we’re both fighting to stay in the playoffs and it was a big win for our team,” Monahan said.

Schwartz gave the Blues a 2-1 lead at the 7:16 mark of the third period. The puck went off of Schwartz’s skate and the goal was upheld after a review.

Bartkowski tied it at 10:53. It was the first goal in 17 games this season for the Flames defenseman.

Brouwer’s power-play goal gave the Flames a 1-0 lead with 2:49 left in the first period. It snapped an 0-for-12 scoreless streak with the man advantage for Calgary.

Elliott stopped all 13 shots in the opening frame, including two quality chances by Schwartz and Alex Pietrangelo on a Blues power play.

Elliott improved to 4-1 all-time against his former team, including a 2-0 mark this season.

“I mean, obviously, you’d like to give up no goals there and I thought it was a blatant kicking motion (by Schwartz), but you’ve got to get points somehow in this league,” Elliott said. “It was big to solidify one point and then to go after the next one.”

Barbashev tied it at the 8:08 mark of the second period. Colton Parayko‘s pass drew Elliott out of position and Barbashev, on his second try after his first was blocked by a Calgary defender, put the puck in the empty net.

“After the first off the legs of the D or someone, I saw the puck was going back and I wasn’t for 100 percent sure that someone was going to be there, but I got lucky,” Barbashev said.

Sharks coach DeBoer wasn’t happy with Jarnkrok hit that preceded Haley match penalty

6 Comments

San Jose Sharks head coach Pete DeBoer weighed in on Micheal Haley‘s sucker punch on Calle Jarnkrok in the third period of Saturday’s game.

Haley was given a match penalty for the incident. He was hit into the boards by Jarnkrok and immediately retaliated, dropping the Nashville Predators forward with one punch as a melee ensued.

Jarnkrok was penalized for boarding on the hit.

DeBoer had an interesting take on the incident.

“When you run someone from behind in a game like that, you probably deserve to get a punch in the mouth,” he told reporters.

The Sharks have now lost six in a row, after a 7-2 defeat to the Predators. The Oilers defeated the Avalanche on Saturday, which puts San Jose into a three-way tie with Anaheim and Edmonton at 91 points for first place in the Pacific Division.

In two games this weekend versus Dallas and Nashville, the Sharks were outscored 13-3.

It gets worse.

Per CSN Bay Area, forward Logan Couture was taken to the hospital after he took a puck to the mouth and lost a tooth late in the second period.

“You can’t replace him, so it would be really tough,” said Patrick Marleau of Couture. “But if that is the case, then guys are going to have to pull up the slack. Definitely we hope he’s back sooner.”

Babcock: ‘I don’t know the answer’ about status of injured goalie Andersen

Getty
Leave a comment

Not only did the Toronto Maple Leafs lose in Buffalo on Saturday, but goalie Frederik Andersen left the game with an upper-body injury and didn’t return.

Curtis McElhinney took over in net to begin the second period. He allowed three goals on 22 shots, as Buffalo busted this one wide open with three goals in the middle frame on the way to a 5-2 victory.

Despite the loss, the Maple Leafs remain third in the Atlantic Division. But the Andersen injury is definitely a concerning development as Toronto looks to accelerate its rebuild by qualifying for the post-season.

Head coach Mike Babcock didn’t provide an update on Andersen following the game. But he did drop one little tidbit of information that has led to speculation about the possible nature of the injury.

From the Toronto Sun:

The suspicion was that Andersen has suffered a concussion or a shoulder injury, though coach Mike Babcock had no update.

“I can’t really tell you because I don’t know the answer,” Babcock said.

“The other team’s doctor thought he should come out of the game so he came out of the game. Once our doctors see him (on Sunday), I will have a better handle on what is going on and I will be able to tell you.

It’s not exactly clear when or how the injury occurred, but possibilities have been discussed. Here’s one example:

Video: Haley given match penalty for sucker punch, Sharks lose sixth straight

6 Comments

Things continue to snowball out of control for the San Jose Sharks.

The Sharks lost their sixth consecutive game after yet another blowout defeat, this time by a final score of 7-2 versus the Nashville Predators on Saturday. Forward Logan Couture lost a tooth after taking a puck to the face in the second period.

And late in the game, Micheal Haley was given a match penalty for an incident involving Calle Jarnkrok.

The Sharks forward is now automatically suspended until commissioner Gary Bettman reviews the incident.

This incident occurred when Haley was hit into the boards by Jarnkrok. Haley then got up, sped right toward the Predators forward, dropped his gloves and delivered a punch to Jarnkrok as he tried to back away, knocking him to the ice.

Jarnkrok was given a minor penalty for boarding.

Haley was also involved in a fight with Cody McLeod early in the first period.

This has been a particularly shocking, if not embarrassing stretch for the Sharks. In a two-game trip to Dallas and Nashville, against teams below them in the standings, the Sharks were outscored 13-3.

Martin Jones allowed seven goals on 34 shots faced.

If Edmonton wins tonight, the Sharks, Ducks and Oilers will be in a three-way tie for first place in the Pacific Division.

Related: What is wrong with the Sharks?