With each standout effort, Blackhawks goaltender Antti Niemi is gaining the confidence of his teammates and, more importantly, coach Joel Quenneville.
Playing in back-to-back games for just the second time this season, Niemi was solid during the Hawks’ 4-3 shootout victory over the Stars on Tuesday night at the United Center.
The Finnish netminder, who has primarily backed up Cristobal Huet, made 24 saves, the biggest coming with under a minute left in overtime when he robbed Brad Richards from in close while the Stars were on the power play. Niemi has won two consecutive games and has a sparkling 15-4-1 record.
Photo: Antti Niemi makes a save Tuesday against the Stars. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
In Tuesday’s shootout, Niemi thwarted chances by Richards, Loui Eriksson, Mike Ribeiro, Matt Niskanen and James Neal. Kris Versteeg eventually gave the Hawks and Niemi the victory with his shootout goal.
“I thoght he was solid,” Quenneville said. “He looked very poised in the shootout. His size and presence on top of the crease and controlling loose pucks around the net is something he’s improving on. We’re very happy with him winning again and taking advantage of the opportunity.”
The Hawks have two games remaining before the 15-day Olympic break. Since they are back-to-back, with Atlanta in town on Saturday and the Hawks in Columbus on Sunday, both Niemi and Huet figure to get a start. Quenneville will then have over two weeks to decide what he will do with the goaltending situation for the stretch run of the season.
“When it’s (Niemi’s) chance to play and fill in he’s done an incredible job,” Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “We feel just as confident having him in there. He’s worked hard and won some pretty big games for us.”
Last night I turned on CSN to see The score of the Bulls game and lo and behold – The Hawks were on. They were in overtime, with about 5 minutes to go when the blackout ended and I could see the rare Blackhawks game to the finish. They are almost never on vs.. National WGN never carries the game, and CSN is blacked out. So I rarely see the Hawks in action so I rarely comment on them. But from what I saw, I was VERY encouraged by the play of Niemi in goal. He weathered the stretch I watched with the Hawks shorthanded 40n 4 and 4 on 3 for the duration I saw. Niemi did everything a big time goalie needs to do to win a Stanley Cup.
But of course, this is Chicago! and the Hawks have Chicago management team. You know, the ones like the Bears, Cubs, Bulls, etc. The ones that decide who plays based on the salary they’re paid, not their performance. The salary says Huet will start every game in the Stanley Cup playoffs, win, lose or whatever. I predict they will play the wrong goalie at the wrong time. But what do I know.