Niemi lifts Blackhawks over Flyers

09:30, June 02, 2010      

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Antti Niemi's days of driving a Zamboni are long gone. Instead of cleaning the ice as he once did in his native Finland to make a few extra bucks, he's clearing away pucks and hoping to help the Chicago Blackhawks hoist the Stanley Cup.

Niemi made 14 of his 32 saves in the third period and Chicago beat the Philadelphia Flyers 2-1 on Monday night to take a 2-0 series leadt.

It was different-style game from the opener when Niemi let in five goals before the Blackhawks outscored the Flyers 6-5.

"I think our 'D' played maybe a little bit better in front of the net in blocking shots and letting me see the puck," Niemi said. "But it's always a little bit about the luck, too, how you see the puck and how it bounces."

Game 2 took on a different tone from the outset.

Defenses were tightened. Bodies were flying and tempers flaring. There was one striking similarity - Chicago's young stars, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, again failed to account for a point but the Blackhawks still won.

It was Niemi's last-period performance that really brought the raucous crowd to its feet when the puck finally slid down the ice and the Flyers couldn't score in the final 1:44 after pulling goalie Michael Leighton for an extra attacker.

They chanted Niemi's name and nearly drowned out an on-ice interview.

"It's unbelievable feeling how the people react," Niemi said. "Defense was the key."

Chicago broke the scoreless tie when Marian Hossa and Ben Eager scored 28 seconds apart late in the second period against Michael Leighton.

And after the Flyers got a power-play goal from Simon Gagne early in the third, Niemi withstood a furious late flurry from the Flyers to preserve Chicago's seventh straight win.

"I thought their goaltender played extremely well in the third period. We had more than enough looks to tie up that game," Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette said.

Games 3 and 4 will be played in Philadelphia on Wednesday and Friday.

Niemi is 14-4 in the playoffs. Monday night's win was one of his toughest, especially with the Flyers peppering him late.

He has had the ability to follow a bad game during the playoffs with a good one.

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(Editor:intern1)

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