Entering the 2010 NHL Playoffs, the Chicago Blackhawks were expected
to gain another berth in the NHL's Western Conference Finals. Many
experts went as far as to predict the Blackhawks would win the Stanley
As the 2009-10 season drove on, the Blackhawks were faced with a
"goalie controversy". As everyday starting goalie Cristobal Huet's
performance began to suffer, Hawks head coach Joel Quenneville was
forced to audition backup Antti Niemi for the job of the starting
goalie. Down the season's stretch, Niemi was superb, but as the 2010
playoffs approached, many experts had changed their previous course and
began to favor the Blackhawks less.
"Inexperience" was the word most used with Niemi. "Lack of playoff
experience in net" was the phrase often associated with the reasons why
the Blackhawks would not fare as well as originally predicted.
During the course of sixty minutes of hockey Sunday, Antti Niemi
proved to be quite the opposite of what his critics had labeled him.
Sunday, Niemi stopped 44 San Jose shots in 45 attempts, and almost
single-handedly provided the Hawks with a Game 1 win on the Sharks' home
Numerous times throughout the game, Niemi displayed catlike reflexes
and a pristine vision for the puck. Niemi made numerous glove saves on
sure goals, and refused to let anything slip under his pads. Outside of
a first period powerplay goal by Sharks' defenseman Jason Demers, Niemi
With the Blackhawks trailing 1-0 in the second period, Patrick Sharp
knotted the game with a wrister that scooted past Sharks' goalie Evgenii
Nabokov. Late in the third period, off a Jonathan Toews winning draw,
Patrick Kane found Dustin Byfuglien in the high slot and the burly
winger slammed home the second, and game winning, goal for the Hawks.
In the final minutes of the game, Niemi fended off numerous scoring
attempts from the San Jose Sharks. Sharks' coach Todd McLellan pulled
goalie Nabokov with two minutes remaining in the game to give San Jose a
6-on-5 advantage. Thirty seconds later, a tripping penalty to the
Hawks' Kris Versteeg provided the Sharks with a 6-on-4 attack. Niemi
was once again perfect in sustaining the Hawks lead despite San Jose's
Every passing playoff game is Antti Niemi's biggest. The rookie
goaltender from Finland began the 2010 post-season under much scrutiny.
Thus far, Niemi has proved his critics wrong. Niemi's performance
Sunday was the type of play that is often associated with great, veteran
There are at least three more games in the Western Conference Finals,
but after Sunday's showing, any speculation about Niemi's ability under
pressure should exist no more. On the grandest of stages Niemi has
seen, the Hawks rookie goalie provided the grandest performance of his