Cristobal Huet seemingly took a giant step forward last summer when he signed a deal with the Blackhawks that is set to pay him 5.625 million each of the next three seasons. That led many of us to draft him higher than usual, and for good reason. He was a late-season stud in Washington butting heads for ice time against a feeble, somewhat banged up Russian. Expecting Huet to win 25 games and start close to 50 was completely realistic.
But it was Nikolai Khabibulin that came through with the consistency needed for the young team to stay alive in the playoff hunt. Khabibulin, who was actually waived by Chicago before the season, played well enough to completely seal Huet off from playoff action. And that made Huet’s entire season feel like a step away from his ultimate dreams.
Along comes Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals and Huet was thrown into the fire after the Bulin Wall finally crumbled with apparent groin problems in the second period. It was an unexpected occurrence and a monumental task to accomplish against the Red Wings, but Huet handled it extremely well.
“I didn’t have time to think really,” Huet said to reporters. “I’ve been practicing a long time for that moment. I was anxious but at the same time ready to help the team in any way I could.”
Thanks to a perfect third period plus overtime, Huet was destined to shake off the frustrating regular season and provide the goods in the most crucial game of the year (Game 4). Let’s just say things didn’t work out. And if it were not for his 44 saves on 46 shots in Game 5, the pain would still be his and his alone. It still hurts like hell because it was a season in which he ended up losing ground from last season. And all of it was capped by a disastrous Game 4.
If you watched the moments when he was pulled go down on Versus, you noticed two things. One, Huet’s departure was Corey Crawford’s gain and Antti Niemi’s loss in the fantasy value department. Secondly, you saw the look of indifference on Huet’s face, like he wanted to scream out, “What do you expect me to do in a situation like this?!”
Internally, the answer was obvious. “How about anything other than what transpired. How about just coming up with the big save when nobody expects it? How about being clutch, being ready, being something!”
I feel bad for Huet. I know what it’s like to take one step forward, only to end up two steps away. We all do. But that is Huet’s season in a nutshell. There’s nothing left for him to do except work even harder for next year. So where does Chicago’s goaltending situation go from here and who steps in? Is it Crawford, Niemi or someone else?