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Antti Niemi still confident after shaky performance

May 30, 2010, 2:22 PM EST

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Niemi6.jpgAntti Niemi had just as shaky a game as Michael Leighton did in the
first two periods of last night’s game, with one subtle difference: he
stayed in the game and made the big saves when his team needed them the
most.

It’s also interesting to see how one team pulls their
goaltender after five goals allowed, while the other team sticks with
theirs. With how Niemi has played consistently in the postseason there’s
no doubting that Joel Quenneville has more faith in his goaltender,
while Laviolette is quick to turn back to his veteran if Leighton
stumbles.

Sticking with Niemi proved to be the right choice, even
if the only other alternative was Cristobal Huet, as he buckled down and
gave his team the saves they needed to get the win. He only made six
saves in the third period, but each one gave his teammates more and more
confidence in their goalie.

Says Patrick Sharp: “That’s what the
great thing about Antti is. It doesn’t matter how many
he lets in, he’s always going to make that next save. I thought when it
was a tie game and we got the lead there, he played his best hockey.
Very sharp toward the end.”

It’s amazing to think of how far Niemi
has come this season, when the weakest part of a great Blackhawks team
was in net. He is now one heck of a confident goaltender, and he’s not
going to let two bad periods get him off his game moving forward.

“I
felt Grade A, pretty good at first. Of course, giving up five goals
is not good for your focus,” Niemi said. “I can’t get too negative about
the goals and started thinking about those too much.”

He was
arguably the most important player for the Blackhawks against the
Sharks, and he’s going to have to play much, much better for the rest of
the series if he hopes to be hoisting the Stanley Cup. Still, the saves
that he made in the third period are enough to give himself and his
team the confidence they need to not worry about the goaltending game
after game.

It’s this confidence that kept Quenneville from
pulling Niemi, after he allowed five goals in the first two periods and
letting the Flyers tie the game twice i the second period.

“I wasn’t looking at the goalie to make that change,” Quenneville said.
“I thought he gave
us a chance, and I thought he did what he had to do, particularly in the
third.”

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