CHICAGO - The Chicago Blackhawks wonder when the questions will stop.
After another starring performance by rookie goaltender Antti Niemi in the ’Hawks 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers in the Stanley Cup final, the questions were still about Niemi proving himself on the NHL’s biggest stage.
“He’s proved himself all year long and the further we go, the questions still pop up,” said teammate Patrick Sharp. “He keeps on answering the critics. He answered all the questions about Game 1 tonight.”
Niemi gave up a bunch in the ’Hawks 6-5 win in Game 1 Saturday night and bounced back with a 32-save performance Monday night. Bouncing back has been a trademark of his game all season long. It’s been a trademark for most goaltenders who give up five goals in the Stanley Cup final, who were a combined 7-0 in bounce-back games going into Monday night. After Monday night’s game, that mark is now 8-1, since Flyers goaltender Michael Leighton also gave up five in Game 1.
“From our perspective, nothing has been questioned,” said forward John Madden. “The way he practices...if you had a kid and you wanted to pick a goalie to emulate his work ethic, it would be (Niemi). It’s incredible.”
Niemi was only beaten on a bouncer by Philadelphia’s Simon Gagne five minutes into the third period on the power play. He was strong after that to save the win.
When asked why has been so strong after giving goals, Niemi said: “It’s hard to say. It’s a great thing that it’s been that way. I want to keep it that way later, too. Maybe it comes out of how I feel after the bad game or game allowing four or five goals. I don’t know how it happens.
“I think maybe our ‘D’ played maybe a little better in front of the net in blocking shots and letting me see the puck. But it’s always a little bit about luck, too, how you see the puck, how it bounces.”
His best save on the night might have been a glove stop on Philly’s Arron Asham in the second period.
“That one on Asham was unbelievable,” said Madden. “I was just coming on the ice and I saw him tee it up. He got all of that one and (Niemi) didn’t flinch. That was a serious save.”