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Friday, April 2, 2010
Win over Devils has feel of playoffs

By Jesse Rogers

NEWARK, N.J. -- Low scoring, no penalties, overtime. It sounds like playoffs. Or close to it.

“It did,” Kris Versteeg said after the Chicago Blackhawks' 2-1 shootout win over the New Jersey Devils on Friday. “Yeah, there were no penalties and there was battling all over the ice. You had to battle for every inch. You weren’t going anywhere without getting an extra shot in the face, or a good punch here and there, or a good hit. It was a well-fought game and fair on both sides.”

Versteeg scored the Hawks' only goal with 26 seconds remaining to tie the game before the Hawks won it in the shootout.
Kris Versteeg
Kris Versteeg finally got the Blackhawks on the board with a goal against Martin Brodeur with 26 seconds left in regulation.

“You just turn around and shoot it and hope it goes in,” Versteeg said. “[We got] a fortunate bounce there.”

Jonathan Toews didn’t want to jump on the playoff analogy but agreed the symptoms sure felt like it.

“These games are getting tighter and tighter,” Toews said. “There’s less room to make the pretty plays. Like you saw, we had to find a way to score an ugly one at the end there.”

None of it matters if Antti Niemi doesn’t come up big once again. A rare early barrage against the Hawks had Niemi facing 10 shots in the first six minutes which resulted in the Devils' only goal. He was solid the rest of the way, including in his specialty, the shootout.

“He was great,” Toews said. “Three great shooters come down and get nothing. He’s been clutch for us. Obviously, we have to play better and better in front of him.”

Niemi, some players have said, works on stopping shootout attempts for up to 45 minutes on a given day.

“Having fun after practice, that’s all,” Niemi said. “It’s like a little competition. It pays off.”

“I like the response we’re getting from him,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “He played three games in four nights and it looked like he handled it very well.”

The Hawks' funk seems to be ending, just in time.

“It started in St. Louis,” Versteeg said. “We definitely played better than they did in St. Louis, and I don’t think we really deserved that loss. We took it into the 4-0 win [in Minnesota] and we took it in again tonight. We were down all night, but I thought we played well. Both teams played well. It was really a playoff like game.”