Here are the keys, Antti Niemi. Now drive the Blackhawks into and through the playoffs. It’s your show.
Niemi’s performance tonight is the reason the ‘Hawks even had an opportunity to tie the game late and get to a shootout. New Jersey dominated the first 10 minutes of the game and held solid throughout the entire first period. Scoring chances were few and far between for most of the game as the Devils made the viewing audience slip into a coma with their incredibly boring style of play.
Then boner time ensued when Kris Versteeg slipped one through a beautiful Jonathan Toews screen and past Martin Brodeur with the ‘Hawks net empty. After a scoreless overtime, Toews scored the winner in the shootout as Niemi stoned all three Devils shooters.
It’s pretty amazing this sleeper of a game actually made history. Neither team got whistled for a penalty, marking the first time since 2001 an NHL game went without a single infraction. Maybe that’s why the game was so boring — no one tried to cheat.
Either way, how the hell am I supposed to write more about a game that could actually put the Energizer Bunny to sleep. And there’s my one and only reference to Easter by mentioning a bunny.
Ilya Kovelchuk’s goal traces back to a Dustin Byfuglien defensive lapse in which he chased Patrick Elias to the corner, leaving his side of the net open. Before Duncan Keith could replace him, the middle opened up and Kovelchuk slipped toward Byfuglien’s abandoned position and scored off Elias’ pass. Damnit.
It’s a shame Toews can’t get an assist on Versteeg’s goal. Not only did he create the screen, he gradually moved more in front of Brodeur as the shot was coming. It was the perfect screen at the perfect time. It also helped save Versteeg’s night, seeing as he continues to be a black hole with the puck.
I haven’t decided yet if it’s better or worse we won’t have a goalie “controversy” heading into the playoffs. What that means is one goal is playing shitty enough to be completely out of the discussion. While Niemi’s play has unquestionably won him the playoff job, there’s no doubt he’s going to run into some trouble. That’s a lot of starts in a row for a rookie goaltender — that is, of course, assuming the Blackhawks go as far as we know they can.
My point is this: With Cristobal Huet not living up to what we all hoped and his confidence getting shot in the process, an off night for Niemi could spell complete doom. I would almost rather have some sort of “controversy” going into a post-season in which the Blackhawks have the best opportunity in my lifetime to win a Cup. At least if one guy is off, the other can step in and we won’t all shit ourselves.
I’ll be in Section 326, Row 12, Seat 11 on Easter Sunday as the Blackhawks take on the ninth-place Calgary Flames. And yes, I do drink on religious holidays.