Cristobal Huet was almost perfect for the Blackhawks in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals, stopping shot after shot from a relentless Red Wings attack.
But when you're playing the Detroit Red Wings, almost perfect just won't cut it.
Huet stopped 44 of 46 shots, including all 21 he faced in a furious first period, but it wasn't enough as the Red Wings sent the Blackhawks packing Wednesday night.
Dan Cleary's perfect redirection early in the third period and Darren Helm's goal off a net-mouth scramble in the extra session were the only blemishes for Huet on a night he stopped more tough shots than a bulletproof vest in a test factory.
"I thought he played great,"said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. "You know, he should be commended on the game he played. He kept us in there. We weathered the storm in the first period. He gave us a chance to be in the game, made key saves throughout the game. Huet and (Colin Fraser) might have been our two best. But he certainly deserved a better fate.”
If not for a miraculous save by Huet in the final 20 seconds of regulation, however, the Blackhawks never would have even gotten to overtime.Marian Hossa
beat his defender and started a 2-on-1 with Johan Franzen. Hossa's pass across deflected off Huet. Prone on his stomach and with the puck on Franzen's stick, Huet kicked up his right skate and thwarted Franzen's backhand attempt to keep the score tied at 1-1 and keep hope alive for Chicago.
Saves like that were the norm on this night.
"He was awesome tonight,"said Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith
. "He made a lot of big saves, especially in the first period. He helped us out quite a bit.”
It was a far cry from Huet's performance in Game 4 of this series, a game that ended with him on the bench early in the third period after allowing five goals on 26 shots in a 6-1 loss in Chicago. Corey Crawford
was forced to take over for Huet, a goalie that many thought would be the backbone of the Blackhawks after signing a lucrative free-agent deal in the offseason.
Huet turned into an afterthought by the stellar play of Nikolai Khabibulin during the regular season and playoffs, but a lower-body injury to Khabibulin in Game 3 of this series opened the door for Huet, and you could almost make an argument the Blackhawks got their money's worth from the 33-year-old in the first period of Game 5.
The Red Wings poured 21 shots on Huet, most from point-blank range. He stopped two from in-close on Hossa and made another brilliant save on Brett Lebda as the Blackhawks tried to get their feet under them. It wouldn't be a stretch to say the Red Wings could have been up anywhere from 3-0 to 5-0 after the first period.
Unfortunately for Huet, he was being matched at the other end of the ice. Chris Osgood took a shutout into the final seven minutes of regulation. While Huet was called upon to make most of the more difficult saves in this series-ending game, it was a goaltending duel that Red Wings coach Mike Babcock enjoyed.
"I thought Huet in particular was outstanding in the first period,"said Babcock. "We had some great looks. He did a great job. But I thought Ozzie made some great saves. Down the stretch in those games, anytime it's tight like that, obviously anything can happen. So both goalies were outstanding.”
With Khabibulin set to hit the free-agent market and Huet entering the second year of a four-year, $22.5 million deal, perhaps this Game 5 performance will be enough to convince Blackhawks management that Huet is their guy next season.Contact Dave Lozo at firstname.lastname@example.org
Author: Dave Lozo | NHL.com Staff Writer