Dallas Stars goaltender Antti Niemi has had a weird season.
In his Stars debut he made history by becoming the first player in league history to record two assists and a shutout in the same game. Then there was the game where his jersey was misspelled. Then came Tuesday night when Niemi again had the bizarre occur by accomplishing what only three other goaltenders have accomplished since 1987-88: winning a game without facing a single shot.
Niemi came into Tuesday’s thrilling game against the Carolina Hurricanes with less than seven minutes remaining in the contest after Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen allowed his fifth goal of the contest. Lehtonen’s fifth goal against allowed the Hurricanes to claw back into a game that was 4-0 in favor of the Stars after the first frame and 5-1 by the time the second period closed.
With the game tied 5-5, all Niemi needed was to hold the fort while Dallas notched another goal. With 19 second remaining, Patrick Sharp did just that and the Stars emerged with a 6-5 victory. Because Sharp’s goal came with Niemi in goal and the game tied, Niemi was the goaltender of record even though he didn’t see a single shot.
According to Hockey-Reference, Niemi becomes just the third goaltender to win a game in which he faced zero shots and the only goaltender to play more than three minutes in a no-shots-against victory. He's also the only one to play out the final minutes of the game, instead of playing his minutes as a brief replacement.
It gets more odd, though, because one of the other goaltenders to accomplish the feat was Richard Bachman, who did it as a member of the Dallas Stars on March 29, 2013.
Coincidentally, Bachman’s win also came in a relief appearance for Lehtnonen. During the game, Lehtonen broke a skate lace and had to miss just enough time in the third period that Jamie Benn was able to score the eventual game-winning goal with Bachman between the pipes. After 2:32 in goal and zero shots against, Bachman was taken out in favor of Lehtonen, and the Stars hung on for the win.
This statistical oddity is even stranger when considering that the third goaltender to complete the feat, Craig Billington, did so twice almost exactly two years apart while a member of the Colorado Avalanche. Billington’s first zero-shots-against win came Dec. 31, 1996. He pulled it off again Dec. 21, 1998. Total, Billington played 2:04 in relief of Patrick Roy.
The first victory came on 12 seconds of play, when Billington was inserted into the game to give during a second period power play, at which time the Avalanche scored the second goal in a 4-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. The second occurrence came when Billington was put in net in favor of Roy for a two-man advantage, which led to a Milan Hejduk game-winning goal against the Anaheim Ducks.
All this is to say that twice this season Niemi has found himself a part of hockey history in his own special way, and he's having one of the most odd seasons in NHL history. We can’t wait to see what happens next time he hits the ice.