April 21, 2011
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Sharks lead best-of-seven series, 2-1
Todd McLellan wouldnt commit to a starting goaltender for Game 4 on Wednesday, but you have to believe he will go back to Antti Niemi. If he does, it will be a big moment for the man who helped lead the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup last season (note: McLellan confirmed Niemi will start Game 4 after Thursday's morning skate). Niemi hasnt played his best hockey in the series by a long shot, and his .853 save percentage is tied for dead last among playoff goaltenders. If he falters once more, McLellan may have no choice but to insert Antero Niittymaki, who was steady in registering the victory in Game 3.
Of course, Jonathan Quick will be trying to respond himself from allowing six goals in Game 3. Quick has a 2.73 goals against average and .922 save percentage through three games.
The Sharks and Kings played a fairly even Game 1, with Joe Pavelskis overtime goal the difference in a 3-2 San Jose win. The Kings dominated Game 2 en route to a 4-0 victory, and looked to be well on their way to taking the lead in the series in Game 3 before the Sharks remarkable comeback in which they became just the fourth team in NHL history to erase a four-goal deficit in a playoff game.
There arent expected to be any changes to the roster of either team for Game 3. Ian White responded well from missing Game 2 with two assists in almost 19 minutes of action. Jarret Stoll, who was suspended for Game 2 after hitting White into the boards from behind, had one assist for Los Angeles in Game 3.
Ryane Clowe was the only Shark to score twice in Game 3, and his five points (2g, 3a) lead all scorers in the series. Drew Doughty (2g, 2a) is the Kings leading scorer, with all of his points coming during a remarkable Game 2 for the defenseman.
The Sharks Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski and the Kings Kyle Clifford are the only other players in the series with more than one goal.
Its hard to predict just how the Kings will react from their epic Game 3 collapse. Despite what they are saying to the media, its impossible to believe that their confidence isnt at least somewhat shaken.
Still, an early goal or two by the Kings would help them twofold. First, it would inject them with some much needed confidence. Secondly, it would further encumber Niemis self-assurance after a poor Game 3.
Conversely, if the Sharks are able to take control early, they could cruise to an easy win against a mentally-scarred club. If that happens, this series is as good as over.
Who would you start in net tonight if you were Todd McLellan?