04/12/2010 12:27 PM
- From chicagoblackhawks.com: (link)
If you hear high-pitched shrieks of terror emanating out the Windy City in the next couple days, relax, everything is OK. It's just a bunch of Stanley Cup-hungry Chicago Blackhawks fans worrying about their team's goaltending heading into the postseason.
Heading into the series with the Nashville Predators, Antti Niemi appears to be "the guy" because he has played markedly better than Cristobal Huet since the Olympic break. Niemi, though, has never been in a Stanley Cup Playoff game and until this season played in only three NHL contests.
While his inexperience is cause for concern, the Blackhawks swear that they have full confidence in not just Niemi, but Huet, too.
"I don't think we worry about it, to be honest with you," Patrick Kane told NHL.com. "We know if we play well in front of them and don't give the other team too many chances we'll be fine. I think both goalies are capable of doing the job."
Some fans will say that's false hope on the part of Kane, but there is evidence to suggest that Niemi in particular is capable of handling the pressure that comes along with backstopping a team that is supposed to contend for the big silver prize.
After giving up four goals in St. Louis on March 30, Niemi won six straight starts. He had a shutout in Minnesota one night after losing, 4-2, in St. Louis. He then made 32 saves for a 2-1 shootout win in New Jersey. He also made 25 saves in a win against Calgary, 26 in a win vs. Dallas and 30 in a win against Colorado.
Niemi has four shutouts in games he's played after losses, and he finished the season with seven shutouts in all, tied for third in the NHL. Niemi's overall record was 26-7-4 with a 2.25 goals-against average and .912 save percentage.
"His approach is conducive to it," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "He goes about his business, is in control and focused on trying to stop the puck. You have to commend him for handling different situations all year. He's grown in his game and his mental approach to the game as well. Not too many things bother him."
The true challenge is about to begin, and nobody can say with any certainty that Niemi is up for it. If he isn't, you know Quenneville will quickly go to Huet, who at least brings some playoff experience to the net.
Huet has fared only so-so in his 16 playoff appearances (6-10, 2.73 GAA, .917 save percentage), but he was strong in his final effort of last season's playoffs when he made 44 saves in a 2-1 season-ending loss to Detroit in Game 6 of the Conference Final.
The Hawks insist they trust Niemi and in the same breath insist they trust Huet, too.
They seem ready for just about anything, but the last thing they want to see is a goalie change. Usually that means something went wrong.
"We understand as forwards or defenseman that the guys that are going are the guys that are going to be playing, and it's no different for the goaltenders," captain Jonathan Toews said. "Both of them will be ready for whatever in the playoffs and we're confident as a team that they will both do the job no matter who steps in."