Monday, April 19, 2010
By Chris Boden
Game 1 lived up to the concerns about this matchup I wrote about last week.
Game 2 lived up to my belief the Blackhawks will win this series.
But just as the Hawks and their Nation had to tell themselves after Friday night it was just one game, they must also keep that perspective after two games. It's the Hawks' job to do here in Music City in either Game 3 or 4 what those pesky Preds managed to do in the Windy City opener.
Sunday night's game reminded me of another recent 2-0 game viewed by many as "must win." Back on March 23rd, after losing a third period lead and fallng in Phoenix three nights earlier, they rematched with the 'Yotes at the UC and locked down to halt their nine-game winning streak and open up a four-point lead on the hard-charging Dogs in another Antti Niemi shutout.
Speaking of whom...
Is it possible to be any more impressed with how the two playoff rookies in the net have performed? The Twin Finns have each allowed two goals over two games. The NHL playoff stats through the weekend listed Niemi and Rinne as 1-2 in both goals-against average and save percentage. Our soft-spoken shy guy has mental toughness that seems to grow every game, bouncing back after Friday's funky game-tying goal, and the winner many argue wasn't really his fault. He keeps to himself, but after sharing with reporters last week he isn't into media or public opinion, he's probably pretty smart, too.
His counterpart is either on an unbelievable roll, or he's turning into one of the best in the West. His reflexes and glove hand for a guy who's 6'5 are freaky fast. I've written before how I'm not a card-carrying member of the Luongo and Nabokov Fan Clubs. If I had a second choice right now in the conference after Ilya Bryzgalov, I might just take Rinne. Quick and Anderson have joined Niemi and Rinne in not letting any first-time post-season jitters interfere with their performances. Like his teammates around him, Rinne gets to settle in to a more comfortable crease at Bridgestone Arena for 3 and 4. The way he's performed so far, I wouldn't mind seeing the Hawks try to make him a little uncomfortable - not just with traffic, but as Joel Quenneville calls it, a little "abrasiveness" to see if it gets him off his game. Maybe see Big Buff down thereat least on the power play to reprise the role he so effectively filled last season. Don't be surprised if the Preds try that strategy out on Niemi, too.
Lost in some of the relief over the Game 2 win was the fact that Nashville's leading sniper didn't play, and was pretty invisible in Game 1. 30-goal scorer Patric Hornqvist is still working through the effects of one of teammate Shea Weber's triple-digit-speed slappers into his his chest a couple of weeks ago. If his health returns, and his scoring touch follows before it's too late, he's a key factor the Hawks must account for defensively. Just one of his goals came versus the Hawks in the season series, but 18 of his 30 came after their sixth and final meeting.
Got lots of other stuff I'd love to write about but time for me to dash as fast as I can to the Grand Ole Opry, the Country Music Hall of Fame, and Dollywood.