-- Truth be told, Cristobal Huet
probably was as comfortable as the guy standing in the middle of an overcrowded elevator.
Luckily for the Chicago Blackhawks
, he sure didn't play that way.
Huet, who last played on April 11, was forced to start the third period for the Blackhawks on Friday night in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals after No. 1 goalie Nikolai Khabibulin
sustained a lower-body injury in the second as his teammates were blowing a 3-0 lead.
But instead of cracking under such intense pressure, Huet rose to the occasion. He stopped all six shots he faced in the third period, allowing the Blackhawks to settle down en route to a 4-3 overtime victory against the Detroit Red Wings
. The win cut the Hawks' series deficit to 2-1, with Game 4 to be played at the United Center on Sunday afternoon.
Which begs the question, who will be between the pipes for Chicago? Much of that depends on Khabibulin's status.
"Nik had a lower-body injury, so we'll say he's day-to-day and see how he presents tomorrow," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville
Khabibulin did not practice with the team on Thursday, though it was supposed to be simply an extra day off. However, it is possible that something was bothering the veteran goaltender and that it played a role in Detroit's ability to erase a 3-0 deficit in the second period.
"We'll call this independent," Quenneville said when asked if it was related to what kept Khabibulin out of practice on Thursday. "It's tough to say if it was a defining moment or not."
Huet's ability to step in after six weeks off and help the Blackhawks right the ship could be a defining moment in this phenomenal playoff run. While he wasn't called on to make any spectacular saves, his composure unquestionably rubbed off on his teammates in the final 20 minutes of regulation. Thaw Hawks came out and controlled overtime before Patrick Sharp
won the game for Chicago at 1:52 of the extra period.
"You don't have time to think really," Huet said. "I've been practicing for a long time for that moment. I was anxious, but at the same time I was ready to help the team any way I could."
Huet said he learned he was going in just moments after the Blackhawks arrived in their dressing room for the second intermission. It allowed last summer's free-agent signee time to prepare for the most important 20 minutes of Chicago's season.
"When I came back to the locker room, the trainer came to me and said that Khabby's out," Huet said. "That actually gave me a little time to warm up and get ready to go."
Once the third period began, he looked it. He was calm and cool with the puck behind his own net and controlled the rebounds on the few shots he did face. It was quite remarkable for someone who really should have been rusty. But Huet was anything but that.
"I thought he was really calm," Chicago defenseman Brian Campbell
said. "He played the puck really well for us. If you've got a guy coming into a situation like that, you probably want a guy like him. He's got experience. He's been there before. He's worked extremely hard since he last played. A lot of credit goes to him."
Should Huet get the call on Sunday for Game 4 -- when his team will attempt to tie this best-of-7 series at two games apiece -- the 33-year-old promises he'll be ready.
"My only job was to really work hard in practice," said Huet, who went 20-15-4 with a 2.53 goals-against average during the regular season. "It's been fun watching the guys play. The fans are awesome. They helped us a lot tonight. That was great for me to get in. I was pumped."
Contact Brian Compton at: email@example.com.