Niemi saves the day: ‘Hawks 2, Sharks 1; ‘Hawks lead series 1-0


Watching the rest of this series may require an oxygen tank and a defibrillator. Anyone out there not entertained by Game 1 and ignorant to the potential the 2010 Western Conference Finals could have on hockey history needs to be committed.

The Blackhawks’ 2-1 victory Sunday provided enough excitement to last an entire series — and there’s still plenty more of this one to go. Both the ‘Hawks and Sharks played at the top of their game overall, flying up and down the ice and peppering each goaltender with over 40 shots.  But despite the offensive barrage, it was  Antti Niemi’s stellar play in net which stole the show and the series lead for the Blackhawks.

Niemi stopped 44 shots and made key saves throughout — some in spectacular fashion, some he made look easy. No matter the flash or lack there of, the puck stayed out of the net and Niemi helped the Blackhawks improve to 3-0 in the Shark Tank this season, allowing only a seeing-eye Jason Demers shot elude him.

Here’s what I’ve got…

— It took the Blackhawks about 27 minutes to get into the rhythm, but the speed of the ‘Hawks and Sharks is mesmerizing to watch. San Jose controlled most of the first period with puck possession and extended cycles in the ‘Hawks zone.  But that second period — wow. Each team traded chance after chance and it looked like every player had rockets on their skates.

If you’re trying to get your girlfriend/boyfriend into hockey, replay the second period and put them in front of the TV. If they don’t immediately ask you the date and time for Game 2 and make plans for where you’re going to watch it together, break up with them. They’re stupid and not worth your time.

Dustin Byfuglien’s game-winner was the perfect example of how a simple miscue in the defensive zone can alter this series. Off the draw, Patrick Kane held the puck along the boards and looked to move it.  Dany Heatly and  Rob Blake sunk toward the net thinking Kaner would move with it to get behind the defense, which left Byfuglien open in the slot. Instead, Kaner moved to his left, Byfuglien called for the puck by relentlessly tapping his stick on the ice, and whipped it past  Evgeni Nabakov while Blake and Heatly stood there and watched.

Hopefully the Blackhawks don’t get caught with their pants down like this, because the Sharks can take advantage of simple mistakes and will catch the ‘Hawks out of position on a brain fart.

Jonathan Toews extended his playoff point streak to 10 with an assist on Byfuglien’s goal. If he doesn’t win the Conn Smythe, even if the ‘Hawks make the finals but don’t win the Cup, asses will be kicked.

Ben Eager was a force and instituted the physical play in a game dominated by finesse. Eager laid out a few massive hits and overall skated his ass off to loose pucks. The best part? He did all this without acting like a dipshit. There was a welcome method to his skating and checking madness Sunday that we haven’t seen in awhile. He made his presence felt legally and without taking himself out of position. Good for you, Ben.

— Behind Niemi, Duncan Keith nabs the MVP for Sunday’s performance. He played nearly 28 minutes, most of which against the Thornton-Marleau-Heatly line, and put four shots on net. On the ‘Hawks first goal, he skated the puck into the zone and waited for the defense to sag before leaving a drop pass for  Patrick Sharp, who put it past Nabakov. Sometimes his expectations and Norris Trophy nomination keep us all from seeing just how valuable he is to the Blackhawks. His ‘B’ game is better than most of the league’s ‘A+’ game. And when Keith himself is an A+ — for instance, Sunday — everyone better look out.

— Niemi’s diving glove save on Clowe, blocker save on Heatly, kick save on … you know what? Forget it. The kid played out of his flipping mind Sunday and nearly single-handedly won the game. Any questions?

— I rarely do this, but the refs were dog shit. Now, that doesn’t mean the five Blackhawks penalties shouldn’t have been called — they definitely should have been. However, you’re telling me San Jose played a PERFECTLY LEGAL GAME?! Bullshit. No way. I’m not buying it. And I’ll tell you, this would be a bigger story had the Blackhawks not won this game.

Furthermore, every single individual watching in the stands, sitting on the benches, skating on the ice and watching on TV saw  Dave Bolland commit that tripping penalty with under a minute left in the third period. Yet, the refs sent  Kris VERSTEEG! to the box. I’m not bitching, but holy living hell — how didn’t they see that?!

Joe Pavelski was invisible and Thornton was a minus-2. Eat shit.

— The Blackhawks won Game 1 for the first time in their last five playoff series. Thank. You.

It’s unfortunate we have to wait until Tuesday for this series to continue. Game 2 will be a 9 p.m. CST puck drop from the Shark Tank. I can’t wait. GO ‘HAWKS!

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