For the second time this series Antti Niemi stopped 44 goals. His effort put the Blackhawks one win away from the Stanley Cup Finals.
"I thought our goalie, you can use any adjective, but the best superlative to describe his performance tonight, great or spectacular was deserving. " Coach Joel Quenneville said after Friday's 3-2 overtime win against San Jose.
Every now and then Niemi thinks back to how far he's come. Starting as a 19-year-old driving a Zamboni at the neighborhood rink to make extra money, Niemi is now just one win away from taking the Chicago Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1960-61.
"It would be a really big thing, but we just want to keep winning."
The biggest thing for the undrafted Niemi came in game one of the Western Conference finals when he recorded 44 saves against San Jose. They're highlight reel saves that have impressed not only his teammates, but Niemi himself.
He recorded another 44 saves during Friday's Game 3 win over San Jose.
"I like watching tapes of what I do wrong than the saves I made. There's luck to those saves, it feels good to see those on TV and they have surprised me a little for sure, but it comes with hard work too," he said.
While Niemi thinks the first two games in San Jose have been his defining moments as a rookie goaltender, teammate Brent Seabrook says the Blackhawks knew the kid arrived during a regular season game against Minnesota when he stopped a 5 on 3 with incredible saves.
Like Michael Jordan in the NBA Finals and Tiger Woods in a major championship in golf, shots fall easy. For Niemi he admits he's in that same "zone."
"For sure, probably, I feel better than I ever felt but I have to keep focusing that its not going to be an automatic thing, so I keep focusing," he said.
Niemi is making it look easy and making the Blackhawks coaching staff look brilliant in picking him as their post season net minder after making only 39 appearances in his first full regular season in the National Hockey League and spending most of the regular season watching Cristobal Huet.
"The biggest thing is I feel comfortable now and confident. I think it's pretty easy to play right now," he said.