Antti Niemi, Blackhawks Win Final Four Heading To Olympic Break

Tab BamfordSenior Writer IFebruary 15, 2010

If players had stock like companies, Troy Brouwer's is at an all-time high.

Brouwer recorded an unofficial Gordie Howe hat trick on Sunday afternoon: he had an assist on Jake Dowell's goal in the second period and scored the game-winner in the fourth round of the shootout after being hit for 19 penalty minutes after beating poor Anton Stralman to a pulp. He now has 31 points on the season, already a career high.

Brouwer was issued 19 penalty minutes after Stralman took a (clean) shot at Patrick Kane in open ice. It appeared that the two players knocked knees, and Kane was slow to get up. Just one night after watching Marian Hossa go down to a hard hit in traffic, Brouwer stepped up for his teammate and dropped the gloves. He earned all 19 minutes.

Kane would return and scored the Hawks' first goal in the shootout. He appeared to be OK after the hit.

Dowell, who replaced Hossa in the line-up, had both an assist and his first NHL goal this season to earn the game's third star. His stock, if there was any before the game on Sunday, is clearly up.

On the opposite end of the spectrum was Kris Versteeg. He played only 4:54 in the game, and coach Joel Quenneville was clearly not happy with the young forward after the game. “I didn’t like the way he was playing,” Quenneville said after the game.

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This was the second night in a row that Quenneville felt more comfortable skating with a specific player off the ice than with a complete roster. On Saturday, after taking a bad third period penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct, Tomas Kopecky disappeared. Sunday was Versteeg's turn to watch extended minutes.

The Blackhawks stock market appears to be labeling Antti Niemi a "buy" right now as well. Niemi started for the fourth consecutive game, coming back from the flu after the Hawks had lost three consecutive games for the first time this season. In those four starts, the Hawks have not lost and Niemi has been exceptional in three consecutive shootouts.

Conventional wins? Maybe not. But two points no matter how you look at it.

The Blackhawks head to Vancouver with the longest winning streak in the Western Conference and stand only two points behind San Jose with a game in hand. The Hawks also extend their division lead over Nashville to 16 points, and are back in the hunt for the President's Trophy, just three points behind the Washington Capitals who have also played one game more than the Hawks.

Here's the video of the Columbus television call of the Brouwer-Stralman fight. Clearly they're begging someone to save Stralman, who took the beating like a rented mule.

For more great coverage of the Chicago Blackhawks, check out Tab's blog: CommittedIndians.com!