Chicago's last line of defense stands tall in Game 2
CHICAGO - Antti Niemi plugged nearly all the holes and then some last night. The Blackhawks goalie turned back 32 shots - including 17 point-blank saves - and withstood a furious late Flyers flurry in the final 75 seconds as Chicago claimed a 2-1 victory before a raucous home crowd at the United Center.
CHICAGO - Antti Niemi plugged nearly all the holes and then some last night.
The Blackhawks goalie turned back 32 shots - including 17 point-blank saves - and withstood a furious late Flyers flurry in the final 75 seconds as Chicago claimed a 2-1 victory before a raucous home crowd at the United Center.
But Niemi maintained that it was improved defensive play - especially after his team gave up five goals in last Saturday's series opener - that made the biggest difference.
"I think our D played maybe a little bit better in front of the net and blocking shots and letting me see the puck," he said. "But it's always a little bit about the luck, too, and how the puck bounces."
And when the puck bounced Niemi's way, it typically was deflected off his pads or stick or artfully gloved.
Niemi had no ready explanation why yesterday was so different. But he wasn't about to argue with success.
"It's hard to say, but it's a great thing that it's been that way and I want to keep it that way," Niemi said. "Maybe it comes out [from] how I feel after a bad game, allowing four, five goals. I don't know how it happens."
The Flyers put only one puck past Niemi when Simon Gagne found an opening at the 5:20 mark of the third to cut Chicago's lead in half.
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette was impressed with how Niemi handled everything his team threw at the Chicago net in the final 20 minutes.
"I thought their goaltender played extremely well in the third period. We had more than enough looks to tie that game and it just didn't happen," Laviolette said. "I don't think we got outplayed, I think at the end of the night we probably out-shot them, out-chanced them but didn't get the result we were looking for."
Yesterday's game was considerably less frenetic than Saturday's series opener, which saw a combined five first-period goals - the most in the Stanley Cup finals since 1982.
The teams combined for just 12 first-period shots - only three by the Flyers. And more than 37 minutes had elapsed before the first goal light went off.
Chicago scored two even-strength goals in a 28-second span as Marian Hossa scooped a short shot past Flyers goalie Michael Leighton at 17:09, and Ben Eager followed with a slapshot over Leighton's left shoulder at 17:37 for what proved to be the game-winner.
One concern for the Blackhawks entering Game 2 was their front line of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Dustin Byfuglien. The line, which had been so productive through most of the postseason, suffered through a Game 1 slump.
Kane and Byfuglien - who collected three game-winning goals in the Western Conference finals against San Jose - each had just two shots on Saturday. Toews, the NHL's postseason assist leader with 19, had none.
Yesterday, the trio combined for just four shots - two apiece by Kane and Toews. Byfuglien, meanwhile, collected his first point since May 23 with an assist on Eager's goal.
"I don't think they're struggling," said Hossa after the game. "They're creating chances. In the first two games they couldn't put the puck in the net, but it's a good thing we have that good depth so other lines can step up. That's what good teams have."
Hossa's goal - his third of the postseason - was also his first in a streak of eight consecutive Stanley Cup finals games he has appeared in. In 2009, he played all seven games with the Detroit Red Wings and went scoreless. He last had a Stanley Cup finals goal in Game 6 of the 2008 finals with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Eager's second-period goal was his first of the playoffs.
Chicago also finally had some power-play opportunities after having none on Saturday.
"It was frustrating," Toews said after yesterday's morning skate. "We felt we worked hard and could have drawn a few the last game . . . [But] even if we do get a couple of power plays, it's up to us to go out there and take advantage of it."
The Blackhawks finally got a power play at 14:38 of the opening period when center Blair Betts was called for cross-checking.
The Flyers successfully killed that penalty and another less than 3 minutes when Chicago had a four-on-three advantage. Chicago had three power plays for the game, but scored on none.