Niemi shuts the door as Hawks take 2-0 series lead
Tuesday, 06.19.2012 / 12:39 AM
Dan Rosen - NHL.com senior writer
For the last two months the Chicago Blackhawks have been talking about how calm and composed Antti Niemi
remains when the pressure is pounding on him.
The Finnish goalie proved it again Monday night with a marvelous rebound effort after a sub-par, yet still victorious, outing two nights earlier.
Niemi came up with 33 saves as the Blackhawks rode him and a pair of lightning quick goals from Marian Hossa
and Ben Eager late in the second period to a 2-1 victory and a 2-0 lead in the Stanley Cup Final over the homeward bound Philadelphia Flyers.
Game 3 will be in Wachovia Center Wednesday night (8 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS). The Flyers are 7-1 on their home ice in the playoffs, but the Blackhawks have the same record in road buildings this spring. In fact, they've won seven straight in unfriendly surroundings.
Flyers goalie Michael Leighton, who started despite being pulled in the second period of Game 1 after allowing five goals on 20 shots, wrapped a strong game around the 28-second outburst by the Hawks late in the second period.
Leighton made 24 saves, but he couldn't stop Hossa at the right point on a rebound goal and he probably would like another shot at stopping Eager's wrist shot from the top of the right circle that flew over his catching glove less than a half-minute later.
Simon Gagne cut into Chicago's lead with a power-play goal 5:20 into the third period. Brent Seabrook
deflected Gagne's one-timer with his stick and the puck fluttered past Niemi with one second left on Patrick Sharp
's penalty for tripping Danny Briere.
Gagne had a chance to make it 2-2 with 7:40 to play, but Niemi got his left pad across the crease in time to stop him at the right post. It was his 26th save of the night and maybe his most important.
Niemi won Game 1, but he allowed five goals on 32 shots. It was the second time he allowed five goals in a game in the playoffs. But the last time he did it he came back with a 24-save effort to win Game 2 against Vancouver.
He was even more effective in Game 2 of this series. Before the Hawks grabbed their 2-0 lead, Niemi flashed some serious leather with dazzling glove saves on Daniel Carcillo, Mike Richards and Arron Asham all within five minutes in the second. He also stoned Richards on a breakaway earlier in the period.
Niemi made 15 saves in the second period after facing only three shots in the first. He added 15 more in the third period.
The second period, though, went along rather quietly until the theatrics of the final three minutes. The Hawks scored twice, including one from the previously snake-bit Hossa, within 28 seconds to take a 2-0 lead into the intermission. But the Flyers started the third period with 1:24 left on Troy Brouwer
's roughing penalty on Jeff Carter.
Hossa, who had only two goals in the playoffs and hadn't scored since Game 3 against Vancouver (nine games ago), finally got one with 2:51 to play when from the right post he batted the loose, bouncing puck past Leighton to make it 1-0 Blackhawks.
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette gambled by having his third defensive pair of Lukas Krajicek and Oskars Bartulis on the ice against Hossa, Brouwer and Sharp. While Brouwer was battling in front with Bartulis, Hossa beat Krajicek to the puck in order to score the goal. Sharp had the initial shot from the high slot.
On the very next shift, the Flyers turned the puck over in the neutral zone and Dustin Byfuglien found a wide-open Eager, who had just come onto the ice for Patrick Kane
. Eager skated to the top of the right circle and ripped a shot that went through Flyers defenseman Matt Carle, over Leighton's catching glove and into the near corner.
Brouwer nearly made it 3-0 with just over a minute left in the period when nearly beat Leighton off a broken play. Hossa also had a chance on the rebound, but he couldn't get a shot off as he tried to drag the puck across the zone.
The Flyers, though, picked up a power-play opportunity with 36 seconds left when Brouwer tackled Carter in Niemi's blue paint during a scuffle after the whistle. Philadelphia couldn't convert despite 84 seconds carrying over into the third period.
The series turned nasty in the first period as there was lots of talking, pushing, shoving and hitting, both before and after the whistle, within the scoreless 20 minutes. The Blackhawks ended up with 20 hits to the Flyers' 13. By comparison, Philadelphia outhit Chicago, 40-37, in Game 1, which was civil compared to the start of Game 2.
After going without a power play for the first 74 minutes and 48 seconds of the series, the Hawks finally got one when Blair Betts was called for cross checking Adam Burish along the wall with 5:12 to play in the first period. The Blackhawks didn't get a shot on goal.
Chicago got another power-play chance with 2:33 to play. Tomas Kopecky
and Daniel Carcillo got matching minors for roughing and unsportsmanlike conduct, respectively, but Mike Richards also was sent off for elbowing Kopecky.
Carcillo was a healthy scratch in Game 1, but in the lineup for Game 2 because the sharp edge to his game was something the Flyers lacked Saturday. He made his presence felt quickly, but maybe not all in the most positive way for Philadelphia.
He laid a devastating open-ice hit roughly seven minutes in, but unfortunately it was on his own teammate, Carter, who had his helmet knocked off by Carcillo. The guy they call "Car Bomb" then picked up his unsportsmanlike conduct penalty at 17:27.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
Shift of the game: Patrick Sharp
, Jonathan Toews
, Marian Hossa
, Duncan Keith
and Brent Seabrook
were hemmed in the defensive zone for well over a minute after Michael Leighton went off for the extra skater. Even though they were exhausted, they were able to keep the shots mostly to the outside and Antti Niemi
did the rest to preserve the lead during the 6-on-5 situation. Sharp finally had a chance at the empty net, but his long shot hit off the right post. The puck was finally frozen with 19.4 seconds left and the Flyers used their timeout. The Hawks killed off the remaining time and won the game.