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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    Kariya and Selanne, one of NHL’s most dominant duos, enter Hall of Fame together

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    Paul Kariya probably had to wait a couple of years longer than he should have to get his induction into the Hall of Fame, but it was at least fitting that the wait allowed him to enter alongside his long-time running mate, Teemu Selanne.

    Both players were among the class of seven inducted into the Hall of Fame on Monday. They spent several years alongside one another in Anaheim (plus one year in Colorado) and were one of the most lethal offensive duos the NHL has ever seen.

    The magic they were able to work on the ice together was simply incredible, and at times jaw-dropping.

    For example…

    Selanne said on Monday that he played some of his best years in the NHL alongside Kariya, while added that he would not be getting the call without his years alongside Selanne.

    Their production together can not be understated.

    Between the 1995-96 and 2000-01 seasons, the years they spent together in Anaheim, 35 percent of the Ducks goals were scored by one of those two players.

    What is most incredible about that production is that Kariya only played in 395 out of 492 games due to injury, while Selanne only played in 382 after being acquired in a mid-season trade in 1995 and then traded during the 2001 season.

    While Selanne had the ultimate combination of sustained dominance and longevity in his career to make him one of the NHL’s all-time leading goal scorers and point producers, Kariya’s career came to an unfortunate and premature end due to concussion issues. While his final stat line may not stack up among the NHL’s all-time greats, he was one of the league’s most dominant offensive players for more than a decade.

    Kariya said on Monday that it took him a year after his retirement to feel normal again, but that he is now no longer having headaches.

    He also mentioned that while the NHL seems to be heading in the right direction when it comes to player safety, but that targeted head shots have no place in the game and he would like to see them eliminated.

    Yakupov becomes UFA after Blues don’t extend qualifying offer

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    Nail Yakupov, the first overall draft pick only five years ago, has become an unrestricted free agent.

    The 23-year-old winger was not extended a qualifying offer by the St. Louis Blues, thus providing him UFA status. He played 40 games for the Blues in 2016-17, battling a knee injury and scoring just three goals.

    Yakupov wants to remain in the NHL, saying in May he has zero plans to return to Russia. It’s possible he could re-sign with the Blues at a lower salary than his qualifying offer would’ve been.

    If not, there are 30 other teams he can speak with now.

    Yakupov is currently in the conversation with Alexandre Daigle and Patrik Stefan in terms of biggest first overall busts in NHL history.

    The Blues did extend qualifying offers to five players: defensemen Colton Parayko and Petteri Lindbohm, forwards Magnus Paajarvi and Oskar Sundqvist, and goalie Jordan Binnington.

    ‘Hawks sign Forsberg, who should be Crawford’s new backup

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    Anton Forsberg, the former Columbus goalie Chicago acquired in the Brandon Saad-for-Artemi Panarin blockbuster, has signed a two-year extension with the ‘Hawks.

    Forsberg, 24, came to North America in the ’13-14 campaign and has spent most of his time with Columbus’ AHL affiliate. He helped the club capture the Calder Cup in 2016, and that performance was part of the reason Chicago GM Stan Bowman went out and acquired him.

    In the aftermath, Bowman said Forsberg would get the “first crack” at the No. 2 gig behind Corey Crawford. The ‘Hawks have been without a backup since sending Scott Darling to Carolina.

    While Forsberg is the favorite for the gig, he’s not a lock. He only has 10 games of NHL experience — a pretty small sample size — and lost out on a similar opportunity with Columbus. Forsberg and Joonas Korpisalo were battling to be Sergei Bobrovsky‘s understudy, with Korpisalo eventually winning out.

    In other Chicago news, the club gave depth forward Tomas Jurco a one-year extension today. Jurco was acquired from Detroit at last year’s trade deadline and appeared in 13 games for the ‘Hawks, scoring one goal. He didn’t dress for the club’s first-round playoff sweep at the hands of Nashville.

    No word yet on financials for either guy.

    Wild extend d-man Olofsson — two years, $1.45 million

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    Gustav Olofsson, the Minnesota defenseman taken in the second round of the ’13 draft, has signed a two-year, $1.45 million extension, per the Star-Tribune.

    Olofsson was a restricted free agent, having just wrapped his entry-level contract. This new deal will pay him $725,000 per season and, importantly, it’s of the one-way variety.

    The Star-Tribune reports Olofsson is expected to play in the Wild’s top-six defense next season, especially since GM Chuck Fletcher appears primed to trade one of Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella or Matt Dumba. Fletcher needs cap space to finalize new deals for RFA forwards Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund.

    Speaking of contracts, the Wild opted against making a qualifying offer for d-man Christian Folin. This means he’ll be able to test free agency, though it’s reported Minnesota might try to re-negotiate with him as a UFA.