Wednesday, June 2, 2010
By Brett Ballantini
PHILADELPHIA In the excitement of a nail-biting third period and the euphoria of their Chicago Blackhawks two-game lead in the Stanley Cup Finals, Hawks fans can be excused if they missed a touching moment immediately after the game.
Chris Pronger stole the game puck, Ben Eager barked at him...
No, no, not that postgame moment. It was the sight of Cristobal Huet sprinting off the bench to congratulate his understudy, Antti Niemi, on the stirring win.
In all the wrasslin, title beltin, BHTVing antics surrounding these young and exciting Blackhawks, the camaraderie and love in the dressing room is too easily overlooked.
Between the teams two goaliesthemselves members of the most unique, pressure-packed and odd fraternity in all of sportsthe bond runs deeper, a brotherhood more than most.
Everywhere Ive been, Ive had a good relationship with the other goalie on the roster, Huet said after the Blackhawks morning skate on Wednesday. Goalies speak the same tongue; Antti speaks the same language as me.
Huet was displaced as Chicagos starter prior to the Olympic break and could never seize the job back from Niemi. Ironically, the Blackhawks 3-2 loss to the Flyers at Wachovia Center on March 13 was his last strong start for Chicago. Huet stopped 31 shots and was betrayed by defensive breakdowns late, particularly on a horrid goal by Pronger with less than three seconds left to win in which Brent Seabrook left the blue line backdoor wide open.
Huet made only one more start, and has just two appearances, since.
I havent played great in the net this season, Huet said with typical candor. The way hes played, what hes done this season, makes me feel better.
For his part, Niemi credits Huet for helping him more than any other Blackhawk aside from goaltending coach Stephane Waite, and perhaps coach Joel Quenneville for having faith in him in the first place.
Huey has been like a teacher to me, Niemi says. I cant even list everything he has done for me.
Niemi, who with 14 wins against just four losses is the winningest goaltender in Blackhawks postseason history, earns respect from Huet for one reason thats almost too simple to mention: a short memory.
He shrugs everything off, remains the same, game after game, the veteran said. Hes remarkable in that way.
Niemi doesnt deny it. Perhaps thats why I am doing so well in my first postseason. When you are just starting out, you maybe dont know what youre supposed to be scared of, or about the pressure of playoffs. My focus is more narrow because Im unaware of these extra pressures.
Tallon at Finals
Dale Tallon will be in the house for Games 3 and 4 in Philadelphia. Count Blackhawks center Dave Bolland as one Blackhawk who was amped to see the architect of this Blackhawks teamnow GM of the Florida Panthers.
It will be great to see him, Bolland said with uncommon elucidation and excitement.
One of the Blackhawks most excitable and entertaining skaters, forward Kris Versteeg, weighed in on the Pronger Puckgate on Wednesday.
I have no idea what he was doing with the pucks, he said, with his Dennis the Menace grin. Maybe its just something he does.
The Soupy Treatment
Is Blackhawks forward and Game 2 hero Eager worried that hell have boos rain down on him every time he touches the puck, like defenseman Brian Campbell did in San Jose from the puzzlingly embittered Sharks fans?
Nah, scoffed the wannabe lumberjack. I dont touch the puck that much. If Philly fans wait for possession to boo me, they wont get their moneys worth.
Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com'sBlackhawks Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter forup-to-the-minute Hawks information.