All season long, the biggest concern for Hawks fans has been whether or not the goaltending could come up with big saves, and avoid giving up momentum swinging goals in the playoffs.
On Sunday, Antti Niemi put those concerns at ease.
Niemi made a game changing, series changing, maybe season SAVING stop on the Predators in the 2nd period last night. He made the initial stop, and when the rebound ended up on the stick of Dustin Boyd, he stretched his right pad and robbed a sure goal.
Had the Predators scored that goal, three things would have happened:
1) The UC, and possibly the team, would have gone from being nervous to in a full blown panic. The Predators were in complete control of the 2nd period action up until that point, and with the team already down 1-0 in the series, a goal would have turned everyone restless.
2) A 1-0 lead would have allowed the Predators to play their game. When they have the lead, the Predators thrive. They play a tight game, clog the neutral zone, take ZERO chances, and wait for a mistake from their opponent. Had Niemi not made that save, the Predators may have trapped the Hawks to death for the rest of the game.
3) The Predators would have captured momentum and a legitimate belief that they could head home with a 2-0 series lead.
Instead, the Hawks took the momentum from that save, drew a penalty, and Dave Bolland back-handed one top shelf on the ensuing power play.
With the 1-0 lead, the game turned in the Hawks' favor strategically as well as on the scoreboard. The Predators eventually were forced to leave their comfort zone and begin taking chances, which led to the odd man rush that Patrick Kane scored on. With a 2-0 lead, the Hawks were in complete control, and that's how it ended.
But it all goes back to Niemi's save. And let's not forget about his 22 other saves, many of which were on quality scoring chances.
Other positives from last night's game: Dave Bolland looking like a different player after scoring his power play goal, Marian Hossa's incredible commitment to team defense, and Patrick Kane's brilliance with the puck.
Still, there are concerns heading to Nashville for games 3 and 4. The passing last night was terrible for the most part, and the Hawks still seemed to struggle with Nashville's tight style. Only after they gained the lead were the Hawks able to open up their game. This shows the importance of SCORING FIRST against this Predators team.
The Hawks also can't expect to go on the power play nine times like they did last night. They must convert on the chances they do get.
All in all, I feel confident that the Hawks will win this series in six games or less. That win might just open the flood gates for the Hawks. They are the clearly superior team, and these bounces should begin to go the Hawks' way at some point.
I said before the series that the Hawks would win in 5, and thanks to Antti Niemi, that prediction is still possible.
-JT (Follow me on Twitter @JTalarico328