ST. LOUIS His uneven regular season aside, Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi is proving to be an incredibly clutch goaltender in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in just his third year as a starter.
The 28-year-old Finland native secured his eighth career playoff overtime triumph on Thursday when Marty Havlats goal gave San Jose a 3-2 win. Niemi stopped 40 shots in all, including 14 in the first overtime when the Blues had San Jose pinned in its own end. It was as well as hes played all season.
RECAP: Sharks take Game 1 on Havlat's OT goal
For his career, Niemi is 8-2 in playoff overtime games, including wins in six of his last seven. That includes Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals on June 9, 2010, when he helped clinch the championship for Chicago over Philadelphia.
Niemi was 4-1 in overtime with the Sharks during their run to the Western Conference Final last season, with the only loss coming on Kevin Bieksas freak goal in Vancouver on May 24.
I asked Niemi about his overtime success on Friday.
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Obviously, it feels better winning in the overtime. Its a tough spot; you dont want to make mistakes. Its hard, but Ive been able to make saves, he said. But, you dont want to worry about it too much or think about it too much. Youve got to be ready and alert.
Niemis coach, Todd McLellan, put it another way.
For a young goaltender, and hes still that, hes been in a lot of stressful situations. You think about going to the Stanley Cup Final, after first winning a job that year, then leaving a Stanley Cup winning team and going to a new team hes been through a lot of stressful situations, McLellan said.
He has the ability to remain calm, which is important in overtime. Much like his starts, the more he plays, the better he is. Sometimes the more action he has around him, the better he is, as well. And there was a lot of action in overtime. He held his ground very well.
Like Niemi, Dan Boyle has won a Stanley Cup before as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004.
Youre not going to win anything if your goalie doesnt I dont want to say steal games for you but he has to be there and be your top guy on most nights. Thats with any team thats won a Cup.
On Thursday night, Niemi was just that.