Three Critical Match-Ups For Chicago Conclusion: Niemi Vs. Nabokov

Jeff HicksCorrespondent IMay 15, 2010

CHICAGO - MAY 03: Antti Niemi #31 of the Chicago Blackhawks looks at the puck in his glove after a save against the Vancouver Canucks in Game Two of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at United Center on May 3, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Experience vs. youth. The known vs. The unknown. The Russian vs. The Fin.

Two different goaltenders leading their teams by protecting the back of the net.

It's been said countless times that a hot goaltender wins you championships. Isn't it funny that hot to lukewarm goalies could possibly do that? Antti Niemi and Evgeni Nabokov come from two different backgrounds, but have the same expectations of winning a Stanley Cup. The two also share the dubious task of being the absolute wild cards for their teams.

Evgeni Nabokov is known as one of the best goaltenders in the NHL, and quite possibly the world. A consistent 30-35 game winner, Nabokov has never managed to get a chance to sip from Lord Stanley's Cup, and has the same stigma that San Jose's top line, and entire team have—not winning when it matters. Nabokov has made it this far—but will he come up short yet again?

Antti Niemi was riding a zamboni in Finland three years ago, serving the role as back up goaltender in the Finnish Elite League. Now, he's one of the many surprises of the 2010 NHL Playoffs. Niemi has shown has brilliant side (2 shutouts), and his bad side (soft goals). As a relative unknown, it is tough to grasp what is expected out of him. Anything short of the best would assumingly put Chicago in a deep hole against a generally stout line up. One thing Niemi has shown is his ability to bounce back. Following Chicago's four playoff losses, he has won the next game.

Whoever shows up and plays the best will win this series. Enjoy what looks to be an epic battle.