Skip to main content

Flyers try to unnerve Hawks rookie goaltender

by John McGourty
PHILADELPHIA -- Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville found himself in a deja vu position here Tuesday afternoon when he was told that Philadelphia Flyers coach Peter Laviolette had started a psychological attack on his goalie, Antti Niemi.

Nine years ago, Quenneville took a talented St. Louis Blues team to the Western Conference Final against the Colorado Avalanche only to have his goalie, Roman Turek, crumble under a withering stream of criticism, snide remarks and unflattering comparisons to Avalanche goalie Patrick Roy.

"Three teams out of four are getting great goaltending," then-Avs coach Bob Hartley said after the Avalanche won the first two games of the conference final, adding "one team (the Avs) is getting unbelievable goaltending. Right now, that's the difference in the playoffs."

A rattled Turek threw a stick at a Joe Sakic shot in Game 1 that led to Sakic's successful penalty shot. The Avalanche scored eight goals in the first two games. Turek was lifted in a couple of games and Quenneville, his team down 3-1, started backup Brent Johnson in Game 5, won by the Avalanche who went on to defeat the New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup Final.

It was reminiscent of Toronto Maple Leafs coach Punch Imlach calling standout Montreal Canadiens rookie goalie Rogie Vachon "a Jr. B goalie" during the 1967 Stanley Cup Final before Vachon melted down like Turek, allowing the Maple Leafs to win the final Stanley Cup of the Original Six era. Never mind that Vachon had two years of professional experience since his last appearance in Tier II Juniors.

"You can tell that Junior B goaltender he won't be playing against a bunch of peashooters when he plays against the Leafs," Imlach teased.

Laviolette didn't call Niemi a "Jr. B goaltender" or say that there was one very good goalie in the Stanley Cup Final and it's his guy, Michael Leighton, although, it's Leighton who leads the playoffs with a 1.97 goals-against average and .930 save percentage.

But Laviolette did throw, if not a bomb, at least a few firecrackers to start his psychological attack on Niemi at the off-day media availability at the Wachovia Center Tuesday afternoon. The Blackhawks lead the best-of-7 series 2-0, with Game 3 here Wednesday (8 p.m., Versus, CBC, RDS).

"We've got to put more pressure on their goaltender. He's a rookie goaltender playing in the Stanley Cup Finals," Laviolette said. "We have to get on the board here tomorrow night and put a little bit of doubt there. Our team is capable of scoring a lot of goals, put a lot of pressure on him."

Laviolette then went on to imply that carrying the weight of Chicago's hopes may be too much for Niemi, a rookie who took over the starting position in midseason and posted a 2.25 GAA with a .912 save percentage during the regular season and has a 2.40 GAA and .919 save percentage in the playoffs, all considerably better than the 3.00 GAA and .908 save percentage he's posted against the Flyers in two games.

So why wouldn't Laviolette, a veteran coach who won the Stanley Cup with the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes, try to further unnerve the player who has been the key to the Blackhawks' advance to the Final? He did what he could to put the weight of five consecutive Stanley Cup Final defeats since the Blackhawks last won the Stanley Cup in 1961 squarely on the rookie's back.
"It's a tough position, goaltending," Laviolette said. "He's representing a city that hasn't won a Cup in 50 years. We have to give him a crack of doubt. We can do that tomorrow night."

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," George Santayana said more than 100 years ago -- but Santayana was a scribe, not a hockey player.
Quenneville chose to ignore that advice when asked what he learned from the Turek experience and how he will counsel Niemi.

"One thing about Antti you gotta -- I won't address the other part of the question -- I'll just address our goaltender and I think that one thing about Antti, you gotta appreciate the way he approaches games and the way he moves on in games and following shots," Quenneville said. "His demeanor is the way you would like it to be in any type of situation.

"Goaltenders are sometimes a little more higher-strung. Antti is as laid-back as I've ever met or seen. I think his disposition enables him to move on to the next situation and the next challenge and the next puck. I think that makes him effective and he's a student of the game as well. He just seems to move on seamlessly and look for the next challenge."

Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook and center John Madden laughed easily when told of Laviolette's comments. Seabrook looked at Madden and decided he'd defend his goalie.

"He's pretty calm, cool and collected. He doesn't let much bother him," Seabrook said. "At least, nothing that we can see. He's pretty quiet in the room. He does his own thing. He makes big saves. He's been huge for us all year and teams have tried to get at him and get traffic and bump him a little bit. He's answered the bell. I don't think he lets that stuff get to him. He just continues to play his game, which has been great for us."

View More

The NHL uses cookies, web beacons, and other similar technologies. By using NHL websites or other online services, you consent to the practices described in our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service, including our Cookie Policy.