Backstopped by the goaltending of Antti Niemi, who recorded his 4th shutout in only 9 starts, stopping 33 shots, the blackhawks won their last game before the Christmas break to move back atop the Western Conference.
Niemi was much sharper than his performance versus Boston, as Detroit actually outshot the hawks 33-31, and tested Niemi several times, forcing the hawk netminder to make several sparkling saves.
Detroit was again without 10 regulars, including Brian Rafalski who missed the game due to the flu, while the hawks were again missing Barker & Eager.
After a pretty even first period, with neither team being able to break through onto the scoresheet, the wings were caught with too many men late in the period. The penalty carried over to the start of the second and the hawks used the clean sheet of ice to their advantage, with Patrick Kane taking a pass from Bryan Campbell & firing a slapper that beat Howard high glove side with Brouwer providing a solid screen to put the hawks up 1-0. After going 13 games with only 1 goal to show for that stretch, Kane's goal was his second in as many nights, and he also assisted on Toews goal late in the 3rd for his second straight multiple point game, leading the hawks offensively.
The wings hung tough & created several decent chances and with a bounce or two, could have tied the game, before the hawks went up by two early in the 3rd on a goal by Patrick Sharp on a goalmouth scramble while the teams were playing 4 on 4.
Jonathan Toews clinched it with a late goal, picking up a loose puck in the slot & sliding it under Jimmy Howard as the hawks replicated their Sunday score line vs. Detroit this time at Joe Louis arena.
The hawks penalty kill continued to be effective, killing off 6 wings' powerplays, with the hawks pp going 1 for 3, picking up the first goal, and only Kane's 2nd pp goal all season.
All that remained was whether Niemi would get the shutout and he turned aside every shot he faced to improve his record to 8-1-1. The contrast in goaltending from last night to tonight was quite apparent for the hawks as Niemi stoned Detroit as Nabakov did to the hawks the previous night. He again looked more confident & clearly looked "bigger" than Huet had in his previous start and did nothing to quell any looming goaltending controversy.
It is doubtful the hawks could move Huet if they wanted to, and it is unlikely they are looking to even do so given the largely unproven status of Niemi. That said, the longer Niemi puts in performances like this, the more work he is likely to see, and that could pave the way for moving Huet in the off-season.
Hawks schedule doesn't get any easier as they face Nashville in another back to back on the weekend where it is quite likely that Niemi will again get one of the two starts.
It will indeed be a Merry Christmas for the hawks & their fans this year.