Throughout the 2019-20 season, NBC Sports Chicago will be unveiling its Blackhawks All-Decade Team. The roster will feature the 14 forwards, 7 defensemen and two goaltenders that made the biggest impact on the franchise from the 2010 through 2019 seasons.
It’s almost hard to remember a time when Corey Crawford wasn’t commanding the net for the Chicago Blackhawks. But before Crawford took the reins in the 2010-11 season, the Blackhawks had some major decisions to make between the pipes.
When the franchise had its resurgence in 2008, they did so with a goaltending tandem of Nikolai Khabibulin and Cristobal Huet – a pair of free-agent signings that had their ups and downs. Before the 2009-10 campaign, Khabibulin was allowed to walk in free agency and the Blackhawks went with Huet and a relatively unproven 26-year old in Antti Niemi.
The decision turned out to be a wise one.
Niemi burst onto the scene in the second game of the regular season, registering a shutout against the Florida Panthers in his home country of Finland. And after getting just the occasional start in the first two months of the season, he took over as the team’s number one goalie in December and ultimately guided them to their first Stanley Cup victory in 49 seasons.
Often times, Niemi had little to do in the crease, regularly needing to make fewer than 30 saves behind a stellar Blackhawks blue line, but his mark on the team was stamped with some dominating playoff performances.
Niemi shut out the Nashville Predators twice in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but his greatest impact came against his future team – the San Jose Sharks. He allowed just seven goals in the Blackhawks’ four-game sweep of San Jose in the Western Conference Finals, posting a sparkling .949 save percentage.
He is one of just five goaltenders in franchise history to win a Stanley Cup, and despite spending less than two seasons in Chicago, Niemi’s 2009-10 season easily earns him a spot in our Blackhawks All-Decade Team as the backup goalie.