A Tale Of Two Netminders.

Game six of the Final tonight with the Chicago Blackhawks looking to close the series out and win their first Stanley Cup since 1961, while the Philadelphia Flyers are hoping to turn around their play from Sunday and extend the series to a seventh game.

This has been a final loaded with drama for sure.  From Flyer defenceman Chris Pronger  taking game pucks from the first two games, even though the Flyers lost.  Each team’s top line struggling to make a difference, resulting in Chicago changing their lines altogether.  The battle of Big Buff and Pronger.  The home team winning all their games so far.  And of course the officiating. 

But one thing that has stood out almost like a sore thumb is everyone’s viewpoint of the goaltending.  Antii Niemi  of Chicago and Michael Leighton  of Philadelphia have been average at times, misreable at others, and victims of unfortunate bounces and defelections as well.  Tonight, one of them is going to have to play their best game of the series.

With Chicago coming out like white on rice Sunday at home, they jumped out to a three to nothing lead, and played their best game of the series so far.  Leighton was chased after giving up three goals on 13 shots, all of which I think he’d like back.  Brian Boucher wasn’t  much better giving up three more to go along with the empty netter scored by Byfuglien.

Antii Niemi on the other hand, gave up four goals on 27 shots and would probably like to take a couple back himself.  There was the goal that slid across the line which was tapped in, and the goal that seemed to go off Scott Hartnell who was laying in the crease.  Which could ahve been a goalie interference call.

The momentum may now have swung the Hawks way.  Philly is a confident bunch however, and head coach Peter Laviolette is talking as though he’s not worried, as he should be.  The cat and mouse game of who’s starting in net was the buzz of the day Tuesday.  When asked about naming the the starter, he commented, and I paraphrase, “We have the goalie with the best numbers, why should I have to say anything”.  Well that was followed by additional questions with Laviollette commenting that he doesn’t talk about lineups.

It was then announced all over the place that Leighton was starting, which after about an hour of Twitter reactions, was then recanted.   The Flyers official Twitter account made the erroneous announcement, which was then retweeted by anyone in the media who saw it.  As of this writing, no starter has been named.

As for the Hawks, unless Niemi passes out, he’s the man.  While he didn’t play spectacularly in game five, he made the saves he needed to, and was resilient enough to keep the Flyers in check.  We’ve been saying all along that when he has a bad game he bounces back with a super game.  In this series, that hasn’t happened yet, but tonight could be the night.

Two full days off, coming off a win at home, and knowing that tonight’s game is a clincher, could put Niemi and the Hawks in the driver’s seat.  They will have to play with the same intensity and desperation they did on Sunday.  Getting under Pronger’s skin will also be a tactic that they want to accomplish.

No matter what, tonight’s game will be eagerly anticipated by both clubs and the house in Philly will be rockin’.  It may not be such an advantage to the Flyers though as the Hawks played in similar arenas and noise levels.  It won’t be easy for either team, and I’m kind of hoping for a real solid game with minimal mistakes.

Here’s a stat that you may not have seen yet.  In the last two years, when the Hawks have a chance to close a series, they are 5-0.

For more coverage on these teams go to BlackHawk Up  and Broad Street Buzz.

Thanks for reading.

Your comments are always welcomed and appreciated.


You can follow me on Twitter @TheRatTrick

Tags: Antii Niemi Chicago Blackhawks Michael Leighton Philadelphia Flyers

  • Scott P

    Good post. There has been a lot of talk about the goalie play in the series, including some saying this is the worst goalie match-up ever in a Stanley Cup Final. While both goalies have been anything but untouchable, I think the basis for the comments (at least on the Chicago side) are non-existent. While Leighton has been passed around, the reason he is starting for the Eastern Conference champs is because of how well he has played since given the opportunity. I do agree that his past is a big issue, but what matters is now (and the future).

    The issue in Chicago is much different. It seems that because Niemi is relatively unknown, he is automatically considered a “bad goalie”. Has anyone seen his numbers all season long? This kid has stepped up bigger than anyone expected, or even hoped. And it’s been as consistent as you can expect. I personally cannot think of a single game this playoff that Niemi lost for the Hawks on his own. I can think of he plenty he won for them.

    If the basis for this is the amount of goals scored to this series, my only response that the highest scoring Final series was goaltended by Ken Dryden and Tony Esposito.

    I am with you, hoping for a solid, well-played game 6. One thing is for sure, one of the greatest sports we have will be shown at its best tonight.

  • Frank Rekas

    Scott P: I agree. While both goalies have been chastised, they both have had their moments. In Leighton’s case, his journeyman status has people questioning his ability. He’s been erratic in this series, otherwise, he’s been very solid. Leading to the question of which version of him is next?

    As for Niemi, and not saying this because I am a Chicago fan, but you’re right, he had a pretty solid regular season, and has had s fairly good playoff run. It’s the first time for him to be under this pressure, and the Flyers have taken advantage of some chances and have had a couple lucky bounces.

    Let’s face it though. Each team has offensive firepower that everyone seems to be forgetting. The offensive stars in this matchup is unusual. We’re used to seeing a tighter final, but while the Flyers can push, the Hawks can score in spurts and bunches.

    Here’s to a great game tonight!

  • slapshot1106

    The series has been loose, and the goalies tend to take more blame than necessary… Neither is my team and I think seeing Philly win would be regretful, I am rooting for more a Game 7 and more Stanley Cup drama…

    But I do feel Chicago gets more out of its 3rd and 4th liners than Philly, so i see this game tightening up tonight, and the Hawks hoisting on an Andrew Ladd 3-2 winner in OT….

  • http://www.bebo.com/home Tyler McLeod

    that is true neime might make his come back (Y)

  • Frank Rekas

    Slap Shot and Tyler: Niemi is getting abused a bit. He’s giving up some rebounds, but the Hawks haven’t done a great job of clearing them away.
    I think Niemi plays very well tonight. Extra rest.

  • Phil

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but that stat isn’t right (Chicago being 5-0 in elimination situations). The Hawks were up 3-1 against Vancouver in the second round this years and lost – they won it in Game 6.

  • Frank Rekas

    Phil: Correct on that. My mistake. Therefore 5-1 would be the record.