HELSINKI, Finland – Antti Niemi made 23 saves and the Chicago Blackhawks used three power-play goals to rout the Florida Panthers 4-0 Saturday and split the season-opening double header in Finland.
Niemi, a Finnish goalkeeper who replaced Christobal Huet for Chicago after Friday’s opening shootout loss, pleased the crowd with his first NHL shutout in four starts.
“It was a good opportunity to play him in front of his own countrymen,” Chicago coach Joel Quennville said. “He got a good challenge and we loved the response. You can give him a lot of credit to stand up during two barrages early in the second period and with a couple of cutthroat situations when he makes spectacular saves in the third.”
Brian Campbell scored the opener at 3:05 on a power play with a low shot from the point. Finnish defender Ville Koistinen, who scored the winning penalty for the Panthers Friday, had drawn the penalty for a push in the back on Brent Sopel.
“It was nice to score early,” Quenneville said. “We had more energy early in the game now, we got a lot of loose pucks and had four lines capable of scoring and making plays. Some guys were dangerous in both games, but it was more consistent now.”
Florida turned up the pace in the second, but it was Chicago who made the most of its opportunities. Patrick Sharp fired a hard shot from the right and Patrick Kane beat defenceman Keith Ballard to the rebound to make it 2-0 at 5:12.
It was Kane’s second goal, and fourth point, in two games.
“You have to be pleased for the four points for our team, and for myself,” Kane said. “I was able to help the team well.”
Chicago rediscovered its rhythm after that goal, but couldn’t use an opportunity to play 5-on-3 for 55 seconds to increase its lead.
However, Sharp finally added the third on another penalty just a minute before the interval. Kris Versteeg broke up a shorthanded attack by the Panthers and fed Sharp, who beat Florida goalkeeper Tomas Vokoun on the breakaway.
Dustin Byfuglien made it 4-0 on another power play in the third, after picking up a loose puck in the circle and beating Vokoun with a low shot.
Florida coach Peter LeBoer said his team was tired after Friday’s 4-3 win, but that was pleased to at least leave Europe with a split series.
“A month ago I would have taken it, but after winning the last game you get greedy and want the four points,” he said. “We’re a skating, forechecking team and need legs. Part of it was that we didn’t have the legs, and part that Chicago played a great game and made us look bad.”
Vokoun made 29 saves as Chicago outshot Florida 33 to 23.