LOS ANGELES -- Sure, Jonathan Quick won the Conn Smythe Award last season as playoff MVP, and is currently leading the NHL with a 1.64 goals-against average and .944 save percentage.
But, the guy on the other side of the ice is holding up his end of the bargain, too.
Fresh off of his first-ever nomination for the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goaltender, Antti Niemi has been able to maintain his level of play in the postseason after a stellar shortened regular season. He’s 6-2 with a 1.93 GAA and .930 SP, and in six of his eight starts, he’s held the opposition to two goals or less.
“A lot of the same that I saw all year. He’s played well,” Brad Stuart said. “He’s been solid for us, and given us a chance every night. That’s what you need this time of year. He’s been doing what he’s been doing all year, basically.”
Niemi is a guy that his teammates say doesn’t need the spotlight or headlines. It’s a good thing, too, as Quick seems to be getting much more attention in the second round series with a number of impressive and highlight-reel stops in the season after he led his team to a championship.
“Nemo’s a quiet, reserved guy. I don’t think that Nemo needs any of the headlines or attention at all to perform well,” Todd McLellan said. “I don’t think he craves that or desires it. So the quieter it is for him, perhaps the better.”
Matt Irwin said: “That’s kind of Nemo’s personality. When you get to know him, he’s a quiet guy, he’s calm, he’s not looking for the spotlight. I think that’s good for him that way.”
What does Niemi think?
“Yeah. Agree on that,” he simply said.
Niemi hasn’t had as much work as Quick so far, a credit to the Sharks’ ability to control play at even strength for long stretches of time, especially in Games 3 and 4. Quick has faced 289 shots and allowed 17 goals, while Niemi has faced just 211 shots, allowing 16 goals.
Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said on Thursday morning that he doesn’t think Niemi has had much of an impact on the series so far, as the Kings haven’t made it difficult enough on him or the Sharks’ defenders, and have to go harder to the net.
“No d-man likes when guys crash the net after every single shot. It’s tough on us. That’s what we need to do to get to Niemi,” Dougthy said.
McLellan said: “There’s eight coaches in the league that are saying that right now. … Coaches are going to encourage their players to go there,” Darryl [Sutter] is no different. I think Nemo has handled it well, our net-front people have handled it well. The task doesn’t get easier, it gets tougher as you move on.”
McLellan expects the Kings to bring it, especially early in Game 5.
“The first five to seven minutes are going to be important for our team,” he said. “We’re going to get on our toes and make sure that we’re aggressive, and try to play those minutes in their end. I think they’ll probably make the start a focal point, and we’ll be prepared for it.”
Scoring first is always important, but becomes even more so in a tight-checking, low-scoring game. The team that has scored first has won all four games so far.
“Both goaltenders are extremely good, so I think getting that first goal gives the team confidence, knowing your goalie can shut the door and pitch a shutout at any time,” Joe Thornton said.
Including, of course, Niemi -- even if he doesn’t get a headline out of it.
“I don’t really care too much either way,” he said.