Author: NBC Sports

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

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

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.

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

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    Will it be Leighton or Boucher in Game 2?

    Leighton.jpgBefore the Flyers hold their practice this afternoon and we get a
    hint of what Laviolette may do with his goaltenders in Game 2 — or we
    aren’t told anything at all — I figured we could go ahead and debate
    whether the Flyers should turn back to Michael Leighton.

    allowed five goals on 20 shots, and while he certainly isn’t to
    completely blame for the loss he wasn’t just a victim of some horrible
    defense by the Flyers. He certainly didn’t look like the confident
    goaltender who recorded three shutouts against the Canadiens, and
    resembled a goaltender without much overall experience making his first
    start in the Stanley Cup finals.

    The Flyers haven’t faced a team
    with the offensive firepower of the Chicago Blackhawks, and it certainly
    showed. So now we ask whether the Flyers should turn back to Leighton
    in Game 2 after he was pulled, or should the Flyers stick with veteran
    Brian Boucher?

    Boucher is the veteran, and he’s experienced when
    it comes to the way the game amps up the deeper you get in the playoffs.
    Leighton appeared unprepared for how fast the game would be, how the
    nerves would affect himself and the team. Boucher looked good in relief,
    despite allowing the winning goal and you have to wonder if sticking
    with Boucher would give the Flyers some stability after such an out of
    control effort in Game 1.

    Still, teams are generally hesitant to
    flat out switch goaltenders in the middle of the Stanley Cup finals.
    Would going right back to Boucher, after it was the entire team and not
    just Leighton that had the bad game, be sending the wrong message to the

    There’s also the fact that teams sometimes just play
    differently in front of one goaltender over another. Perhaps having
    Boucher in net will calm the Flyers, especially with how the defense
    performed in Game 1. Still, Leighton was the goaltender that played so
    well in the series against the Canadiens and you wonder if he deserves
    at least a chance to acquit himself after a poor showing in the opening
    game of the series.

    You have to think that Laviolette will
    start Leighton in Game 2, but keep him on a very short leash. Still, you
    wonder if the Blackhawks were right, saying before the series started
    that they thought Leighton played so well because of the defense in
    front of him and not because of his particularly strong play.

    Laviolette not focusing on "controversial" goal



    There were many positives for the Philadelphia Flyers to build on
    from their Game 1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. They dominated play
    for the first half of the game and surprised Chicago and the hockey
    world with a surprising 3-2 lead after the first period. Furthermore,
    they showed why they got to this point in the first place, fighting back
    after the Blackhawks took two leads in the second period.

    Still, this was a painful loss to take. The Flyers can feel good
    about keeping up with a team many feel is much more talented, yet
    they’ll also be disappointed and aggravated with the sloppiness of the
    game and how Michael Leighton had to be pulled after allowing five goals
    on 20 shots.

    After the game, coach Peter Laviolette was succinct while addressing
    the media. He was clearly not happy with his team’s performance in the
    game, and wasn’t all that interested in focusing on the positives.

    “You know, you lose a game, the first game of the Stanley Cup Final,”
    Laviolette said. “It’s hard to sit here and thumb through the
    positives right now. We’ll take a look at it tonight, and tomorrow and
    we’ll be ready to go.”

    Most interestingly — and for this you have to respect Laviolette on
    — he refused to get into the “controversy” surrounding the game-winning
    goal. Many feel the play should have been whistled dead when the puck
    appeared to hit Tomas Kopecky while he sat on the bench. The play
    continued, and Kopecky scored the winning goal just a few seconds later.
    Laviolette is only interested in the outcome.

    “If a puck hits player on the bench, it’s supposed to be whistled
    down. Well, that’s neither here nor there right now. They scored.”

    While the play should have been blown dead, there’s no doubting that
    the Flyers were grossly outplayed in the final 25 minutes of the game.
    Like we’ve seen so many times before this postseason, the Blackhawks
    took their play to another level while not allowing the Flyers to do the

    That’s what Laviolette and his team should be focused on; while the
    Flyers played better — in some aspects — than many expected they still
    have a lot to work on.

    “Everybody has got to be better,” Laviolette said. “We win as team
    and we lose as a team. Tonight we lost as a team. We have to be better
    if we’re going to win as a team.”