SAN JOSE, Calif. -- He did it again.
Playing his first game in what NHL players deemed the toughest arena in the league, Antti Niemi came up big to help earn the Chicago Blackhawks a 2-1 victory and a 1-0 series lead in their Western Conference finals matchup with the San Jose Sharks.
Niemi stopped 44 shots while giving up just a lone Jason Demers goal as the Hawks scored the final two goals of the game after getting behind 1-0 after one period.
San Jose seemed to shake the rust off a long layoff quicker than the Hawks, getting out to that 1-0 lead and outshooting Chicago 13-8 in the opening 20 minutes. They also earned three power-plays chance in the first period and scored on one of them. The Hawks did not get a chance with the man advantage as San Jose was not called for a penalty in the game.
The lack of power plays never gave Niemi a breather, and he proved he didn’t need one. His best save of the game came on a rebound try by Ryan Clowe in the second period, as Niemi looked destined to be down and out on the play but was able to stick his left pad out just in time to shut the lane on Clowe.
After falling behind in that opening period, and despite never getting a chance on the power play, the Hawks slowly but surely started to move the momentum in the other direction.