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posted: 3/10/2010 12:01 AM

Hawks' goaltending problems no laughing matter

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  • Blackhawks goalie Antti Niemi, right, gets the call for Wednesday's game, but who starts in the playoffs is a decision that could go to the final week of the regular season.

    Blackhawks goalie Antti Niemi, right, gets the call for Wednesday's game, but who starts in the playoffs is a decision that could go to the final week of the regular season.
    Associated Press


We'll see who's laughing in June.

Will it be Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman at his critics after either Cristobal Huet or Antti Niemi proves they can deliver the goods in the playoffs?

Or will it be those critics of Bowman who believe the first-year GM blundered by not acquiring another goaltender at last week's trade deadline?

What's done is done, and all we can do at this point is sit back and see how it all plays out between now and whenever the Hawks finish the playoffs.

Hawks senior vice president Scotty Bowman went on Toronto radio the morning of the trade deadline and said management was laughing at the various reports claiming the Hawks were looking to pick up a goalie.

All those Stanley Cup rings give Bowman the right to say what he wants, but why be so smug about it?

There is no denying Stan Bowman had at least one brief conversation with Florida GM Randy Sexton about Tomas Vokoun. And if Bowman didn't at least make an inquiry phone call to Dallas GM Joe Nieuwendyk about Marty Turco, then shame on the Hawks because Turco would have been an upgrade.

Perhaps the Hawks are good enough to overcome their questionable goaltending and win the Stanley Cup. Only time will tell, but it's getting short for either Huet or Niemi to take control of the situation.

Hawks coach Joel Quenneville repeated again Tuesday he planned to be riding one guy going into the playoffs. Well, who's it going to be?

The opinion here is to go with Niemi and take your chances. He simply makes more big saves at key times.

Quenneville announced Tuesday Niemi would start Wednesday's game against Los Angeles at the United Center, putting the ball back in his court. At this rate with 17 games to play, the audition to start the playoffs might go to the final week of the season.

"We went last year real late in the year," Quenneville said of the competition between Nikolai Khabibulin and Huet to start the playoffs. "They basically all year were alternating. This year it's been more Huey than Antti, and now Antti is getting more of an opportunity at the end here. We'll see how it sorts out."

Last year there was little doubt Khabibulin would be the guy in the playoffs, despite what Quenneville says. This year all we have is doubt.

Head shot debate

Just as NHL general managers were set to meet in Florida on Monday with shots to the head scheduled to be a key topic, Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke goes and provides more evidence about their danger.

Cooke's blind side shoulder-to-head hit on Marc Savard Sunday left the Boston center with a Grade II concussion after he was wheeled off the ice on a stretcher.

"It felt like shoulder to shoulder to me," said Cooke, who wasn't penalized. "I said sorry to him the best I could."

This is a tricky, tricky area for the NHL. While nobody wants to take hitting out of the sport, the increased speed of the game and size of the players are helping to cause more serious injuries.

"The problem is not really as cut and dried as people think," Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford told Canadian Press.

"This is a real difficult task," NHL vice president Colin Campbell said. "The hits are great until somebody gets hurt."

Nevertheless, this is a serious problem for the league and a minor or major penalty for any hit to the head, intentional or not, is the only solution.

Shout it out

So a blogger in Detroit thinks Hawks fans are disrespectful for cheering during the national anthem.

Who cares?

Around the rinks

• Canucks center Ryan Kesler will be the next cover boy on the NHL 2K11 video game.

• The Blue Jackets, with their playoff hopes shot anyway, lost Rick Nash in Monday's 6-0 loss to Los Angeles with a lower body injury.

• Detroit's Todd Bertuzzi suffered a charley horse against the Hawks on Sunday but was in the Red Wings' lineup Tuesday when they played Calgary.

The list

The Blackhawks aren't the only team goalie issues at this late point in the season:

1. Philadelphia

Can Michael Leighton get the Flyers to the playoffs and beyond?

2. Washington

The Capitals are so similar to the Hawks: A great offensive team with Stanley Cup aspirations but with big question marks in goal in Jose Theodore and Semyon Varlamov.

3. Boston

Reigning Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas took a 15-16-7 record into Tuesday's game at Toronto; backup Tuukka Rask has been better.

4. Detroit

Jimmy Howard hasn't been bad, but he has no playoff experience.

5. Montreal

The Canadiens' problem isn't as dramatic since both Jaroslav Halak and Carey Price have the potential to steal games.

Ex-Hawk of the week

Florida Panthers defenseman Bryan McCabe was the NHL's third star of the week for collecting 1 goal and 7 assists in his last eight games. McCabe has 34 points in 64 games for the Panthers.

Kings & Blackhawks

Time: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday

TV: Comcast SportsNet

Radio: WGN 720-AM

What to watch: The Hawks are 3-for-7 on the power play in their two games against the Kings, who rank 22nd in penalty killing. The Kings are coming off a 6-0 win over Columbus at home on Monday when they held the Blue Jackets to 11 shots on goal.

Season series: Hawks lead 1-0-1.

Next: Philadelphia Flyers at Wachovia Center, noon Saturday.