Niemi serves up an epic performance

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:48 PM ET

SAN JOSE — He plays a better game than he talks.

Asked about his epic performance in Game One of the Western Conference final, Antti Niemi summed it up in six words.

“For sure, one of the best.”

Anything you’d like to add?

(Insert sound of crickets here).

The star of the show wasn’t giving up any rebounds on the questions, either, but nobody in Chicago is complaining — nothing wrong with a man of few words and even fewer goals against.

If there was going to be a weak link in Chicago’s chain, the 26-year-old rookie seemed like the most obvious candidate. Going up against San Jose’s Evgeni Nabokov, who was making his 77th career playoff start, Niemi seemed in over his head.

Now, he’s inside the heads of the Sharks after a 44-save 2-1 win.

“He’s been good for us all year,” said Kris Vertseeg. “Everyone seemed to be doubting him except us. We’re confident in him. We have to give him a lot more help than we did tonight.”

Indeed.

It worked out for them on Sunday, but that’s no way to win a playoff series, giving up 45 shots and handing over five power plays, while drawing none yourself.

“We don’t want to give up that many shots,” said defenceman Brent Seabrook. “But they’re an explosive team, a high-powered team, they got quite a few shots on their power play and we have to shore that up and try and stay out of the box.”

He scores, too: The concern about Dustin Byfuglien was his ability to raise havoc around the crease, but he struck the fatal blow Sunday from about 30 feet out, proving he’s more than a bull in a china shop.

“He’s got such a big shot, heavy shot, and he lets it go very quickly,” said Jonathan Towes, who won the faceoff that set up the winning goal.

“I keep telling him, ‘Just hit the net and either me or Kaner will go find the rebound.’ He’s shown he can power it right through a goaltender.”

Road warriors: Chicago improved to 6-1 on the road this post-season, opening with a Game 1 win for the first time in their last five series dating back to last year.

“It’s something we really wanted to establish this series,” Seabrook said. “We wanted to come out hard and get the first win of the series and try to play from ahead for a change.”

robert.tychkowski@sunmedia.ca


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