An ugly loss to Columbus earlier this week may have resolved the debate of who will be the Chicago Blackhawks’ No. 1 goaltender in the playoffs.
Although still in a tight race with San Jose and Phoenix for the No. 1 seed in the West, Chicago (46-20-7) has stumbled since returning from the Olympic break, falling to 5-5-2 in that stretch after an 8-3 loss at Columbus on Thursday.
Despite the defeat, the Blackhawks secured a spot in the postseason for the second straight year after Calgary lost to the New York Islanders later that night.
To go far in the playoffs, the Blackhawks will need to overcome their recent inconsistency, especially in the goaltending department. Chicago is allowing 3.4 goals per game since the Olympic break, with Huet compiling a 4.21 goals-against average and .833 save percentage. He gave up seven of the Blackhawks’ season-high eight goals allowed Thursday, when he was temporarily pulled in favor of Niemi.
“I don’t think anybody played good tonight,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “(Huet) had a tough night. It can happen, but it was contagious tonight.”
Quenneville hasn’t publicly committed to a No. 1 goaltender for the playoffs, but Niemi appears to have the inside track. He’s 3-1-2 since the Olympics with a 2.45 GAA and two shutouts, including a 2-0 home win Tuesday over Phoenix.
That victory improved the Blackhawks to 27-7-3 at the United Center. After Sunday, five of their remaining eight regular-season games will be on the road.
This contest will also wrap up the season series against the Blue Jackets. Chicago won the first four meetings prior to Thursday’s defeat. Niemi won his only start this season against the Blue Jackets - a 5-4 shootout victory in Columbus on Feb. 14.
Columbus (30-32-13), which was eliminated from playoff contention Friday, will be trying to bounce back after a 4-3 overtime loss to the Islanders on Saturday. The Blue Jackets scored three consecutive goals between the second and third periods to take a 3-2 lead, but the Islanders quickly tied the game and then won it 2:58 into overtime when Josh Bailey(notes) beat Mathieu Garon(notes).
“It wasn’t that good of a game,” said Nash, who had an assist in Thursday’s victory. “It was good to come back, but I don’t think we had a full team that played their best.”
Antoine Vermette(notes) had an assist against the Islanders, giving him 10 points in the last six games. He had two goals and an assist against the Blackhawks on Thursday, giving him three goals and five assists against them this season.