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Duffer's Digest: Niittymaki has Atlanta's number

by Brian Duff
Like the NHL's regular-season schedule, I feel like my brain has been compressed because of the Olympics, as well.

Consider this week's blog as decompression time -- letting out a million (give or take a few) thoughts that have been rattling around for a while.

It's not exactly the Curse of the Bambino, but goalie Antero Niittymaki's ownership of the Atlanta Thrashers is becoming legendary.

He's beaten the Thrashers 15 straight times -- the first 13 as a Flyer, and now twice this year as a member of the Lightning.

And, it essentially began in North America at the AHL level, which is even more fascinating.

In 2005 Niittymaki's Philadelphia Phantoms, the Flyers AHL affiliate at the time, beat Kari Lehtonen's Chicago Wolves, Atlanta's AHL affiliate, in a four-game sweep to capture the Calder Cup.

Niittymaki was named playoff MVP and his domination of his Finnish countryman Lehtonen and, ultimately, the Thrashers organization was underway.

How much is he in the heads of the Thrashers?

Consider that prior to the 2009-10 season, Atlanta had dropped 14 in a row to Philadelphia. Now that Niittymaki has moved on to Tampa, the Thrashers have beaten the Flyers in both meetings so far, including Thursday's a thrilling third-period, come-from-behind win.

Now Atlanta just has to find a way to top Tampa Bay. After beating Mike Smith and the Bolts in their season opener Oct. 3, they've lost to Niittymaki in overtime, Smith, and Niitty again in a shootout.

The Lightning and Thrashers face off again this Tuesday at Philips Arena.


Still with Tampa, TSN researcher Kevin Gibson has been pointing out to us recently that during the past 11 months, Steven Stamkos finds himself in the top five in goals in the League -- right up there with the Ovechkins, Crosbys, and Kovalchuks of the world.

While it's surprising when you consider he was a barely a regular in the Lightning lineup a year ago, the nightly highlights show you that with his off-wing, one-timer, he will most likely challenge for the Rocket Richard Trophy on an annual basis.


It's been three months since the Predators have had a skid like this -- four-straight losses. It's brought them right back to the cut-line in the Western Conference, meaning tonight's meeting with the Red Wings at the Joe could be the game most worth watching.


Twenty-one! That's the final number for Alberta's combined winless streak. Edmonton has gone 12 games without a win; Calgary 9. The two will meet Saturday night at the Pengrowth Saddledome, mercifully bringing an end to one skid, while sadly extending the misery of the other. And we can stop threatening to spell Canada's greatest province Alllllllllllllllllllllberta!


Speaking with Eric Staal on NHL On The Fly this week, it was impressive to hear his tone and belief in the notion that his Carolina team will be better, and soon. It's hard to gauge them right now because, as he admitted, the Hurricanes are playing without pressure. Still, he's done everything right since assuming the captaincy and it's been refreshing to watch.


Most overlooked great goaltending performance? Carolina's Cam Ward during the 'Canes 5-1 win Wednesday as MSG.


The Leafs meet New Jersey three times in their next four games. I'm not sure this is a case of better the Devil you know...

Then again, it might be the closest Toronto comes to a playoff-type series this year.


Players we look forward to seeing again soon -- David Booth in Florida, and Kari Lehtonen with Atlanta. Both are getting very close.


Enjoy the weekend-long celebrations -- Hockey Weekend Across America and Hockey Day in Canada -- of the game in the United States and Canada!
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