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Niemi very much in running for No. 1 job

by Dan Rosen
Antti Niemi prefers not to look too far ahead, so he's not thinking about being Chicago's No. 1 goalie going into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, even though he's in the middle of a stretch that could prove he should be in there ahead of Cristobal Huet.

"We haven't been talking about it too much yet," Niemi told "The more I play the better chance that can happen. Especially at this time, every game we have left is a big chance to show what I can do."

Chicago coach Joel Quenneville sees Niemi as the wild card in the intriguing battle for the Hawks' postseason net between the 26-year-old Finn and 34-year-old Frenchman.

Niemi has just 28 games of NHL experience, including 25 this season, and he's never played a minute in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Even though he's 18-5-1 with a 2.38 goals-against average, four shutouts and a .910 save percentage, Quenneville says the jury remains out.

That's why the coach has been giving Niemi a shot these days.

"Huey has been the guy all year, but as we have gotten into this little stretch Antti has gotten to play a little more and he's playing well," Quenneville told "I don't want to stop that progress."

Niemi won the Hawks' last four games leading into the Olympic break, so he earned the start coming out of it, too.

Things didn't go well against the Islanders on March 2. Niemi got pulled before the Hawks lost, 5-3. That opened the door for Quenneville to say the Hawks would rely on Huet to take control the rest of the way.

Huet started the next night against Edmonton. He won that game and picked up another win against the Canucks two nights later, but burned out in the second period of Sunday's game against Detroit when he surrendered four goals on eight shots.

Niemi was tossed back in net after being the backup for three games. He started Wednesday and his 28 saves backstopped the Blackhawks to a 3-2 overtime win against Los Angeles.

Quenneville will go back to Huet for Saturday's game in Philadelphia, but could choose to then play Niemi in Sunday's NBC game against Washington.

"We'll learn more about him as we go along here," Quenneville said of Niemi. "It's all new to him and to us. We have to find out about him. As we find out more about him we may be a little more comfortable in the decisions going forward, but I feel both guys are very capable and both guys want to be the guy."

Niemi doesn't doubt that he can be. As long as he's on top of his game, Niemi believes he can lead the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup, which besides the goaltending situation is all they're talking about in Chicago's hockey circles.

Confidence pours out of him like water out of a hose.

"It's a long way, but I think the way I believe I have played at my best this season, if I can get to that level, anything is possible," Niemi said. "I have the wins this season and that's a big thing for me and most important. I'm quite happy with my season so far."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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