Daily Herald
Niemi gets fourth shutout in Hawks' 3-0 win over Wings
By Tim Sassone | Daily Herald Staff
Published: 12/23/2009 9:11 PM | Updated: 12/23/2009 10:34 PM

DETROIT -- Not only does Antti Niemi keep winning big games for the Blackhawks, it's where he's doing it.

Add Joe Louis Arena to the list of hostile buildings Niemi has gone into and won over the last month.

First there was the 1-0 win over the Canucks at GM Place on Nov. 22, then his 2-1 victory on Dec. 5 at Mellon Arena over the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins.

On Wednesday night at Joe Louis it was Niemi making 31 saves in a 3-0 victory over the Red Wings for his fourth shutout of the season in 9 starts.

"I haven't played too many games and most of them have been away games and I felt pretty good in them," said Niemi, 8-1-1 for the year. "You need always a little bit of luck to get a shutout. The defense was great."

Patrick Kane scored a second-period, power-play goal, and Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews tallied in the third as the Hawks blanked the Red Wings for second time in four days.

The last time the Hawks posted consecutive shutout over Detroit was in 1971, but three months apart, with Tony Esposito in goal.

The Hawks moved back into a tie for first place in the Western Conference with San Jose with 51 points and pulled 4 ahead of second-place Nashville in the Central Division.

The Hawks have a 10-point bulge on the injury-riddled Red Wings, who were shut out for the fifth time in their last 15 games.

"It feels good to beat the Wings a couple times in a short period of time, but we're realistic and we know they're going to be healthier towards the end of the season," Sharp said.

"You can't read too much into a regular-season game in December. Until we can knock them off in a playoff series we consider them the team to beat. What they're going through right now in their dressing room over there is pretty unbelievable."

Detroit played again without eight injured regulars plus defenseman Brian Rafalski, who sat out with the flu.

"They were missing so many key guys that you don't get opportunities like that very often and you have to take advantage of it," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said.

Niemi made 24 saves through the first two periods when the Red Wings came out and tried to be more physical than in Sunday's 3-0 loss at the United Center.

"I think the last time we played them we maybe backed off a bit and gave them too much respect," Detroit defenseman Brett Lebda said.

Kane's power-play goal came 30 seconds into the second period on a wicked slap shot past goalie Jimmy Howard through a Troy Brouwer screen.

"They worked like dogs in that first period," Quenneville said of the Wings. "Obviously scoring first in the game was critical and then we had a real good third period."

Niemi and Cristobal Huet have combined for 7 shutouts, which leads the NHL.

"Niemi has 4 and it could have been 5; they scored in the last seconds at Pittsburgh," Sharp said. "It's pretty special. He's been playing well for himself and the team.

"We know that whether it's Antti or Huey, we're going to get a good effort back there. All those shutouts and the way those two goaltenders are playing is impressive."

Tim Sassone's game tracker

Three stars

1. Antti Niemi, Hawks: Another sparkling effort with 31 saves for his fourth shutout in nine starts.

2. Duncan Keith, Hawks: A tower of power on defense again in 27 minutes while adding 2 assists.

3. Troy Brouwer, Hawks: The winger had nis nose everywhere with a team-high 4 hits and a perfect sceen on Patrick Kane's power-play goal.

Key stat

The Red Wings were 0-for-5 on the power play.

Counting minutes

Kris Versteeg's minutes were down for the second game in a row. He played only 12 after getting just 11 minutes Tuesday against San Jose.