There are many reasons to doubt Antti Niemi. The Blackhawks goalie is only 26 years old, He’s an undrafted rookie with just 56 NHL starts on his resume. And he’s a got city that hasn’t hoisted the Stanley Cup in almost 50 years on his fragile shoulders. So, with his team down 2-0 in the Stanley Cup finals, that’s the first guy Flyers coach Peter Laviolette told his team to target.
“I really feel like we have to do a better job picking our spots,” Laviolette said prior to Game 3. “Traffic, I’m a big believer in traffic. It always makes it a little more difficult for the goaltender.”
And last night — at a packed Wachovia Center (20,297 to be exact) — that message was received at the 14:58 mark of the first period. With the Flyers on the power play, three orange shirts crowded the net before Danny Briere slapped one by Niemi to put the Flyers up 1-0. The Flyers got 32 shots on the rookie, and made four of them count in a 4-3 win as they climbed back into this series.
It was bound to happen, according to Laviolette.
“He’s a rookie goaltender playing in the Stanley Cup finals,” the Flyers coach said. “We have to give him a crack of doubt.”
Against San Jose, he allowed just seven total goals and denied 46 shots in a crucial Game 6 win. Niemi has gone 14-4 this postseason and has recorded two shutouts.
“I think there’s room there,” said Laviolette. “There’s room other ways as well.”
Last night, the Flyers found that room. Now, they have to do it three more times.