Shutouts are the story of tonight's big games

niemi.jpgAll three of the games I targeted as “the best games of the night” ended up in some hard-fought shutouts. Two of them came from Finnish goalies and all of them came from guys who may have been expected to be backups (but are looking likely to usurp their “superiors”) this season.

  • For the Chicago Blackhawks, the shutout showed that the Western Conference may indeed have a true favorite. They pulled a point ahead of San Jose (who finally broke their dry spell against Minnesota tonight) and temporarily deflated Phoenix’s Cinderella run. Antti Niemi hasn’t put up amazing stats (at least from a save percentage standpoint) but it’s hard to argue with his 19-5-3 mark in Chicago. Could Niemi be the Blackhawks’ answer in net right now?
  • If you ask me, the other Finnish once-expected backup (Tuukka Rask in Boston) is the answer for the Bruins. He earned a goose egg for the team as they dominated ninth-seed Atlanta 4-0 tonight. The Bruins have won two huge games against the two most likely threats to their playoff lives and Rask has allowed one goal on 51 shots in the last two games. Might want to wait until next year to revive your career, Tim Thomas.
  • Ottawa affirmed their status as a rugged playoff team after a contentious game against the Philadelphia Flyers tonight. It was a brutal bout at times, with Anton Volcenkov figuring into much of the violence. Brian Elliott was supposed to backup the more expensive (but free-falling) Pascal Leclaire, but he’s often been the more stable goalie of the two.

The Bruins and Senators lack the breathing room to “test the water” to see which goalie they prefer but it might be true that the Blackhawks should also go with the “hot hand” in net. Either way, all three teams won some big games while keeping their opponents off the scoreboard. We’ll have more on the playoff implications of these wins tomorrow.

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    Blackhawks F Katchouk will be sidelined by ankle sprain

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    CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced Sunday.

    The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

    The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

    The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.

    Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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    ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

    The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

    The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

    Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

    The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

    Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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    TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

    The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

    “This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

    Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

    Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

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    TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

    The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

    “Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

    The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

    Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.