NHL.com: Preds win battle of Finnish goaltenders

Saturday, 04.17.2010 / 2:15 AM / Nashville Predators Playoffs Coverage
NHL.com
CHICAGO -- Patrick Sharp couldn't believe his luck when he grabbed a turnover at the Nashville blue line in the first period of Friday's playoff opener between the Predators and Chicago Blackhawks.
 
It was the end of a shift, but Sharp took the puck and bolted for the net. Waiting there was Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne. It looked like Sharp had an opening -- but Rinne made the save of the night by poke-checking the puck harmlessly to the corner as Sharp went to shoot.
 
It was by far the best of his 25 stops in Nashville's 4-1 win at the United Center, but Rinne was solid throughout in his first Stanley Cup Playoff game. In a battle of inexperienced Finnish goaltenders, Rinne was the one who skated off smelling like roses.
 
Sharp, for one, was impressed.
 
"I felt like I had an open net if I got by him," he said of his first-period chance. "I didn't know that he poke-checked me. I thought maybe (Ryan) Suter got me from behind. Then I saw the highlight and (Rinne) made a good play. Give him credit."
 
Sharp also blasted a one-timer off the post in the second period that would have beaten Rinne, who dove on that play and knocked the rebound out of the crease. Rinne, who's 6-foot-5 and takes up a lot of space, got plenty of help from his teammates and Nashville's 1-2-2- neutral zone trap scheme that clogs up the ice.
 
The Hawks' offense was frustrated all game. Chicago's only goal came 9:43 into the second period, when Patrick Kane fired the rebound of Sharp's shot into the net for a 1-0 lead that finally gave the home crowd something besides the National Anthem to scream about.
 
The way Antti Niemi played in the Hawks goal through the first two periods, it seemed like Kane's goal might be all the Hawks needed to win. Instead, the third period turned into a nightmare for Niemi -- who also got his first taste of the playoffs.
 
Niemi allowed a soft goal 91 seconds into the third period on a bouncer by ex-Hawk J.P. Dumont that tied the game 1-1. He was blameless on the game-winner, a rebound that Dumont shoveled into the net midway through the period after Niemi robbed David Legwand on a breakaway following a turnover.
 
Niemi stopped 22 shots, but his mental condition after that first goal was a big post-game topic. The puck skipped past him on what seemed like a harmless flop shot by Dumont from just inside the blue line.

Veteran center John Madden, for one, isn't worried.
 
"Stuff happens, pucks go into the net weird sometimes," Madden said. "I don't think it will (faze Niemi). Experience is one thing, but he'll refocus. He's a real competitor. He'll battle back and be fine."

Author: Brian Hedger | NHL.com Correspondent

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