Antti Niemi still confident after shaky performance

Niemi6.jpgAntti Niemi had just as shaky a game as Michael Leighton did in the
first two periods of last night’s game, with one subtle difference: he
stayed in the game and made the big saves when his team needed them the
most.

It’s also interesting to see how one team pulls their
goaltender after five goals allowed, while the other team sticks with
theirs. With how Niemi has played consistently in the postseason there’s
no doubting that Joel Quenneville has more faith in his goaltender,
while Laviolette is quick to turn back to his veteran if Leighton
stumbles.

Sticking with Niemi proved to be the right choice, even
if the only other alternative was Cristobal Huet, as he buckled down and
gave his team the saves they needed to get the win. He only made six
saves in the third period, but each one gave his teammates more and more
confidence in their goalie.

Says Patrick Sharp: “That’s what the
great thing about Antti is. It doesn’t matter how many
he lets in, he’s always going to make that next save. I thought when it
was a tie game and we got the lead there, he played his best hockey.
Very sharp toward the end.”

It’s amazing to think of how far Niemi
has come this season, when the weakest part of a great Blackhawks team
was in net. He is now one heck of a confident goaltender, and he’s not
going to let two bad periods get him off his game moving forward.

“I
felt Grade A, pretty good at first. Of course, giving up five goals
is not good for your focus,” Niemi said. “I can’t get too negative about
the goals and started thinking about those too much.”

He was
arguably the most important player for the Blackhawks against the
Sharks, and he’s going to have to play much, much better for the rest of
the series if he hopes to be hoisting the Stanley Cup. Still, the saves
that he made in the third period are enough to give himself and his
team the confidence they need to not worry about the goaltending game
after game.

It’s this confidence that kept Quenneville from
pulling Niemi, after he allowed five goals in the first two periods and
letting the Flyers tie the game twice i the second period.

“I wasn’t looking at the goalie to make that change,” Quenneville said.
“I thought he gave
us a chance, and I thought he did what he had to do, particularly in the
third.”

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    Goalie nods: After blowout loss, ‘Hawks start Darling against desperate Bolts

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    It wasn’t a good performance from Corey Crawford in Saturday’s 7-0 loss in Florida — the Chicago starter was hooked after allowing four goals on 25 shots.

    Of course, it wasn’t a good night for the guy that replaced Crawford, either.

    Scott Darling was torched for three goals on six shots against the Panthers, but now gets the first crack at redemption — Darling will start tonight when Chicago gets back into action in Tampa Bay.

    The Lightning are hopeful they’ll have as much success against Darling — and maybe even Crawford — as the Panthers did on the weekend. Tampa Bay is desperate for points, and heads into tonight’s action sitting three points back of Boston for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. The Bruins are idle tonight, but the Isles — who have 82 points, to Tampa Bay’s 81 — are in action, hosting Nashville.

    So it’s a big night for Tampa, to say the least. Appropriately, Andrei Vasilevskiy will get the start, after stopping 29 of 30 shots in a big OT win over Detroit on Friday.

    Elsewhere…

    Eddie Lack is 5-1-1 in March with a .931 save percentage, so he gets the call as the ‘Canes host the Red Wings. Petr Mrazek goes for Detroit.

    Roberto Luongo is still out, meaning James Reimer gets yet another start for the Panthers (he scored the shutout against Chicago over the weekend). Robin Lehner is in goal for Buffalo.

    — We mentioned the Isles-Preds game above, and it’ll be Thomas Greiss in goal for the host team. It’s his second straight start, having played in Saturday’s loss to Boston, and it comes ahead of the recently recalled Jaroslav Halak. No word yet on a Preds starter.

    Jake Allen‘s ridiculous month (7-1-1, .951 save percentage) continues with a start against the Coyotes. Mike Smith will be in goal for the visitors, looking to snap a five-game personal losing streak.

    — The Flames will stick with Brian Elliott when they host the Avs tonight. No word yet on a Colorado starter.

    Sharks’ Haley suspended one game for Jarnkrok sucker punch

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    The NHL’s Department of Player Safety has come down on San Jose tough guy Micheal Haley.

    On Monday, Haley was suspended one game for his sucker punch of Preds forward Calle Jarnkrok, near the end of Nashville’s 7-2 over the Sharks on Saturday.

    “Haley forcefully punches a player who is off balance, not engaged in the confrontation and not even looking when the punch is thrown,” the DoPS explained, via video. “This is a forceful punch on an opponent who is not able to defend himself at the time.”

    The DoPS did acknowledge Jarnkrok’s hit on Haley that preceded the punch — Jarnkrok was given a boarding minor on the play — and also noted that Haley explained he was seeking retribution for said hit.

    In addition, the DoPS acknowledged this was Haley’s first offense.

    As a result of the suspension, Haley will now miss San Jose’s next game — tomorrow at home against the Rangers — and will be eligible to return on Thursday, when the Sharks take on the Oilers in Edmonton.

    Haley will also forfeit $3,472.22 in salary to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.

     

    Cassidy says Bruins ‘overused’ Rask early on

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    Some interesting comments today from Boston Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, after goalie Tuukka Rask returned to practice.

    Cassidy’s remarks came in the wake of Saturday’s big win in Brooklyn — a game that Rask missed with a lower-body injury.

    “He had a good practice today,” Cassidy said of Rask, per CSN New England“He’s a guy that’s played a lot of hockey this year … and he’s not a 240-pound goaltender that can handle all of the games, all of the workload every year. We know that. I’m not going to put limitations on him, but we probably overused him at the start of the year. At this time of year, it gets tougher and tougher with any player that’s been overplayed.”

    It remains to be seen which netminder will get the nod tomorrow against Nashville at TD Garden. Anton Khudobin stopped 18 of 19 shots in Saturday’s 2-1 victory over the Islanders. After a 1-5-1 start to the season, the 30-year-old backup has won his last five starts.

    But Cassidy insisted today that Rask is the Bruins’ “No. 1 goalie.”

    “He’s our No. 1 and his health is very important,” said Cassidy. “When he’s physically ready to go and he tells me that, then we’ll make that decision.”

    Couture seeing dentist today, Sharks hoping for the best

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    Logan Couture took a puck to the face Saturday in Nashville, forcing him to leave an eventual 7-2 loss to the Predators — and leave it without all his teeth.

    Today, the San Jose forward is seeing the dentist. The hope, according to head coach Pete DeBoer, is that Couture’s injury isn’t as serious as initially feared.

    “You see him the next day, the swelling wasn’t as bad as we thought,” DeBoer said Monday, per CSN Bay Area. “He’s seeing the dentist today, and going to have some dental work done. But, I think the initial prognosis is that we feel pretty fortunate that with the amount of damage compared to what it could have been.”

    The slumping Sharks, losers of six straight, have seven games left in the regular season. They host the Rangers tomorrow.