Niemi gets some recognition

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:32 PM ET

CHICAGO — Chicago’s goaltending was supposed to be their weak link in the playoffs, but after outduelling Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo and Colorado’s Craig Anderson, Antti has them saying uncle in San Jose.

“I wouldn’t say he’s proving me wrong, but he’s proved a lot of (other) people wrong,” said Hawks captain Jonathan Toews, a day after goaltender Niemi posted a 3-2 OT victory in Game 3, despite being outshot 41-27 in regulation. “He’s exceeding even our expectations. He just seems so cool and collected. All the praise and everything that’s being thrown his way, it just seems like it doesn’t matter to him. He doesn’t even seem that excited about it.

“He just wants to play hockey. He just seems like he’s having fun. Such a relaxed guy, none of this stuff is affecting him. He knows he’s got a job to do. He’s brought it every single night. So he’s been a huge part of our team, obviously.”

Three games into the Western Conference final he’s 3-0 with only five goals against, on the strength of 44-save efforts in Games 1 and 3.

“I remember watching an exhibition game two years ago, and I think that was his first time playing in a game,” said Duncan Keith. “We were in Dallas. He stopped about two or three five-on-threes in that exhibition game. I remember thinking back then, ‘This guy is a pretty good goaltender.’ I don’t know where we found him. There was no hype about him. But you’ve seen that before in a lot of European goalies.”

The 26-year-old Finn, who’s a restricted free agent this summer (ka-ching) says he’s no robot — he does feel pressure — but just ignores it.

“It’s stressful, but if you stress about it it’s going to be worse,” he said. “You don’t really want to focus on negative thoughts at all, just keep focusing on the play and the puck, that’s all you can do, and hope that you’re going to score.”

no life-support: If the Sharks are using Philadelphia’s historic comeback over Boston as motivation, so are the Hawks. They saw what happened when the Bruins relaxed and don’t want to flirt with anything similar.

“There’s no other way to put it, we’re in a great position,” said Keith. “We’re one win away from a chance to play for the Cup. I don’t think we want to give these guys any life right now. They haven’t had it yet, so there’s no point on giving it to them now.”


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