In a game where the Habs' offence never clicked into gear, the veteran goalie stood on his head to turn away numerous chances by the Sabres to tie the game, including a lengthy 5-on-3 situation in the third period. For his outstanding efforts he was named first star of the game, and brought his save percentage up to a highly respectable .916 on the year.
He’s been Montreal’s most consistent performer in net. Since joining the Canadiens, he has 13 games with a save percentage over .920, while playing behind one of the league’s worst penalty kills, and overall defensive units.
Considering how poorly his time with Pittsburgh (.797 SV%, 7.50 GAA), and Florida (.872 SV%, 5.08 GAA) went, his resurgence in Montreal ranks at the top of the list for feel-good stories this year.
Every year a team has to put forth a Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy nominee, someone who shows perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey. This year, Montreal would be remiss to not consider Niemi for the award.
When he was waived by the Panthers earlier in the year, it was all but assumed that the 34-year-old was done in the NHL. He has since come to the Habs, taken over as a starter while Carey Price was injured, and carved out a fairly remarkable season with some of the league's best numbers since his arrival.
He’s not just a backup playing well on a good team, like Curtis McElhinney in Toronto, or every person who took the net for the Vegas Golden Knights this year. Niemi is playing behind a struggling team, and still putting up gaudy numbers on most nights while routinely facing 35-plus shots.
It’s fair to say the netminder has overcome quite a bit of adversity this year, and would be a good choice as the Canadiens' representative.