04/19/2010 11:39 AM - From chicagoblackhawks.com: (link)
CHICAGO -- The smile on Antti Niemi's face said it all.
Sitting at his corner locker inside the Chicago Blackhawks' dressing room Sunday night, the Finnish goaltender put on his team-issued ball cap and then tried to explain what it feels like to be on the upswing of a playoff roller-coaster.
After allowing a fluke goal in Game 1 that led to Nashville tying and eventually winning the game, Niemi was as low as he'd ever been after a game. He didn't talk with reporters, as teammates consoled him in a side room not accessible to the media.
After blanking Nashville in Game 2 to even the series at a game apiece, Niemi admitted that it took awhile for the sting to go away.
"I thought about it all evening after the game," he said. "Then I didn't want to think about it at all (on Saturday)."
After putting the sour experience away, Niemi fixated his focus on making amends Sunday. He didn't face an overwhelming amount of shots, but all of the Predators' good scoring chances were thwarted by some inspired, timely goaltending.
The shutout was the Blackhawks' first in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since Ed Belfour blanked Calgary on April 19, 1996, and was the first in franchise history by a rookie goaltender.
It also helped that Chicago got a great effort from its reshuffled defensive pairings and that Nashville played without leading scorer Patric Hornqvist (upper-body injury). Hornqvist, who is expected to return for Game 3 on Tuesday in Nashville, often parks his body in front of opposing goaltenders.
Predators coach Barry Trotz said that part of Hornqvist's game was missed severely and that Niemi wasn't screened nearly enough. Nashville forward Steve Sullivan agreed.
"They didn't give us too much; we should have battled harder," he said. "Niemi was able to see most of our shots."
Still, Niemi had to keep himself sharp despite a lack of pucks coming his way. Not getting enough action, as odd as it sounds, can sometimes catch a goalie off-guard.
"It shouldn't be (difficult), but sometimes it is," said Niemi, who picked up his first career playoff win. "Overall, though, I felt pretty good tonight."
Ever since that bad-luck goal slipped past, the Hawks defended their inexperienced goaltender. Center John Madden compared the flukish goal to one he saw happen to Martin Brodeur in the Stanley Cup Playoffs when they played together in New Jersey.
Brodeur basically scored on himself, thanks to a weird bounce.
"You've just got to keep playing," Madden said. "I've seen all kinds of weird goals go in. You've got to keep going and keep plugging away and be professional about it."
On Saturday, many wondered how Niemi would respond. Watching him happily skate off with No. 1 star honors on Sunday, they got their answer.