Goalies key as Sharks, Kings start Cup climb


Goalies key as Sharks, Kings start Cup climb


SAN JOSE -- (AP) Antti Niemi was a major reason the Sharks failed to make it past the Western Conference final a year ago with his spectacular play in goal for Chicago.Now that Niemi has traded in his Indian-head logo for a teal sweater, the Sharks are hoping he can play just as well in his second postseason as he did in his first when he helped end the Blackhawks' nearly five-decade title drought.
"I still have nightmares of the save he made on me in Game 1," Sharks forward Ryane Clowe said. "It's great to have him on our side. When you go against a Stanley Cup goalie and he beats you and then you get him over here the next year, that's always nice. We love Nemo. We love the way he competes. He's a workhorse and we expect big things from him."
RATTO: Sharks vs. Kings -- 5 unconventional factorsNiemi delivered in the regular season, posting the most wins (32), the third-best goals against average (2.11) and the fifth-best save percentage (.927) in the league after Dec. 1. Niemi started 36 of San Jose's final 37 games, helping the Sharks move from 12th in the Western Conference to second in that span.He leads the Sharks into their first-round series against the seventh-seeded Los Angeles Kings beginning Thursday night in San Jose. The Kings have their own goalie capable of dominating a series in Jonathan Quick."Being out on the West Coast, he doesn't get as much credit as he should, but we've got a great guy in our net, and we have full confidence in him, even if not as many people know about him," Kings defenseman Jack Johnson said.Few knew about Niemi before last season's playoffs, when he started all 22 games for Chicago, winning 16 with a 2.63 goals against average as the Blackhawks won their first Stanley Cup title since 1961.That performance gives him confidence and a comfort level heading into this year's playoffs."I don't think it will be easy, but it is a little different having some experience," he said. "Last year, I played 30-something games and it was my first playoffs ever. It was really mind-boggling. Now I know I can play playoffs so it's a different case."He said that first game of the Western Conference final in San Jose, when he made the diving glove stop to rob Clowe late in the second period, was one of the most important he played during that run.That started Chicago's sweep of San Jose in the latest postseason disappointment for the Sharks.
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"It's nice to have him in the same color jersey," forward Patrick Marleau said. "We know firsthand going up against him how tough he is. We're looking forward to that in the playoffs. It's great looking back there knowing he's there to make the big save or the easy save."Niemi was just the latest in a long line of hot goaltenders who have given the Sharks postseason anguish, from Anaheim's Jonas Hiller in 2009 to Dallas' Marty Turco the previous year to Dominik Hasek and Dwayne Roloson in the more distant past.The Kings have a goalie more than capable of doing the same in Quick, who had 35 wins and a 2.24 goals against average this season. He will need to be at the top of his game to shut down an offense with seven 20-goal scorers led by Marleau, Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley and Joe Pavelski.Quick has won six of his 10 career starts against the Sharks, holding them to two or fewer goals half the time. He shut out San Jose at HP Pavilion in December and was outstanding in a pair of shootout wins later this season.San Jose managed to knock him out with four goals in a little over 25 minutes just over a week ago, but the Sharks know how formidable he can be."He's usually making the first stop," Sharks forward Logan Couture said. "Obviously we got to him that last game in the regular season, but he's always played well against us. He's good moving laterally. His pads sit up so you can't beat him along the ice. You have to get him up. He's quick, one of the better goalies in the league statistically and how he played against us."The Kings will likely need a big series from Quick considering they scored fewer goals than any other playoff team this year and will be without their biggest offensive threat in forward Anze Kopitar, who is sidelined by an ankle injury.If the Kings are going to have success against Niemi, they will have to do better on the power play than they did during the regular season. Los Angeles slipped from sixth in 2009-10 to 21st this season on the power play despite having most of the same players.That power-play success a year ago almost carried the Kings into the second round, as they converted 38.5 percent of their chances and got 10 of their 18 goals with the man advantage in a six-game loss to Vancouver in the first round."We're trying to work on moving more," Johnson said. "Our power play really took a nose dive in the second half, and a lot of it had to do with standing around on the ice. You can be moving the puck back and forth really well, but if it's not with a purpose, it's pointless, and that's kind of what we fell into lately."

David West is coming up big for the Warriors

David West is coming up big for the Warriors

OAKLAND -- David West is as much a cleanup man as he is a basketball player.

The veteran power forward, masquerading as a center for the Warriors, cleans up behind teammates, cleans the clocks of opponents and probably cleans his plate after every meal. And he’d hit fourth in any manager’s batting order.

The Warriors during their renaissance haven’t had such a personality. They’ve been a fun bunch, enjoying life, each other and their pillaging of the NBA.

West, 36, brings a more laconic dynamic, and it’s on full display as the Warriors lean into the final weeks of this regular season. He’s a leader who is producing and, more and more, winning over a fan base that was somewhat skeptical early this season.

“David West has been playing brilliantly,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Friday night, after West came off the bench for a highly efficient 14-minute stint in a 114-100 win over the Kings.

Showcasing sharp passing, splendid shooting, solid rim protection and his usual old-jerky toughness, West totaled 8 points, four assists, three rebounds, three blocks and one steal. The Warriors were plus-8 when he was on the floor.

Such production, it seems, is a bit of a bonus.

“He’s been very good for us as a veteran leader,” Draymond Green said. “He’s been playing well, but just his presence also has meant a lot to this team.

“D-West is just kind of a no-bull---- type of a guy. He doesn’t say much. But when he does, you know it means a lot. And everybody hears him.”

Said West: “It’s just about adjusting and learning personalities. Obviously, this group has been very successful. I just try to add my 2 cents where I feel like it fits. Try not to over-talk people. I speak to guys directly and just make sure that we’re all on the same page.”

West is in his 14th season. Drafted by the New Orleans Hornets in 2003, he also has played for the Pacers and, last season, the Spurs, before joining the Warriors in July.

The question at the time was whether he still had a lot to give. West is a two-time All-Star and one of the most widely respected players in the league. But did he still have the legs to compete at a high level?

The answer is visible, particularly over the past month, since he returned from fractured left thumb on Feb. 23. West is shooting 53.0 percent from the field, he’s rebounding consistently and he has proven to be a spectacularly good passer -- easily one of the best in the league among big men.

Earlier this week, to quell any lingering concerns about how much athleticism he still has, West rose up and dunked over a crowd of three Dallas Mavericks. It was clock-cleaning at its finest.

“I’m just getting more comfortable,” West said, referring to his game and his locker-room influence. “We’ve developed good chemistry, communicating, harping on our defense more than anything else at this moment, because we feel that’s going to give us a chance if shots aren’t falling.”

West is on a one-year deal for the veteran’s minimum, $1.55 million. He sacrificed bigger dollars for a chance at his first championship. He’s doing his part. And he neither takes nor leaves any mess.

Dempsey hat trick lifts US over Honduras in statement win


Dempsey hat trick lifts US over Honduras in statement win


SAN JOSE — Bruce Arena's return as U.S. coach reignited American confidence, and his players responded with an emphatic rebound in World Cup qualifying.

Clint Dempsey returned from an irregular heartbeat to score his second international hat trick, 18-year-old phenom Christian Pulisic had one goal and set up three others, and the U.S. routed Honduras 6-0 Friday night to get right back in contention for an eighth straight World Cup berth.

Surprise starter Sebastian Lletget got his first international goal in the fifth minute after Pulisic's shot deflected off the goalkeeper, Michael Bradley doubled the lead in the 27th and Dempsey scored off Pulisic's perfectly weighted chip in the 32nd.

Finding room to maneuver in a central midfield role, Pulisic made it 4-0 just 12 seconds into the second half with his fourth international goal, Dempsey rounded the keeper to score following a Pulisic feed in the 49th, and Dempsey got another on a 23-yard free kick in the 54th. With 55 international goals, Dempsey moved within two of Landon Donovan's American record.

In its first competitive match since Arena replaced Jurgen Klinsmann, the U.S. moved from last to fourth in the final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region, tied at three points with Honduras but ahead on goal difference, Mexico leads with seven points, followed by Costa Rica with six and Panama with four.

The top three nations qualify for next year's tournament in Russia, and the fourth-place nation advances to a playoff. With a victory at Panama on Tuesday, the Americans could move into the top three.

The U.S. had never before won a hexagonal game by more than three goals.

And oh how the American Outlaws and others among the lively home crowd loved every second of this long-awaited showing, chanting "Michael Bradley!" and "Demp-sey! Demp-sey!" through the Bay Area rain and cool March air.

Then, it was "Bruce Arena! Bruce Arena!"

Gloom descended upon the Americans in November when they opened the hexagonal with a 2-1 home loss to Mexico and a 4-0 wipeout at Costa Rica. The defeats caused the U.S. Soccer Federation to fire Klinsmann, who had coached the Americans since 2011, and bring back Arena, who lead the team from 1998-2006.

Dempsey, 34 and hoping to reach a fourth World Cup, was sidelined from August until this month by an irregular heartbeat and likely was starting only because of injuries to Bobby Wood and Jordan Morris. Tim Howard, the Americans' 38-year-old goalkeeper, got the shutout after returning only two weeks ago from a leg injury sustained in the loss to Mexico.

Geoff Cameron, back from a knee strain that had sidelined him for fourth months, was shifted to right back from central defense because of injuries to others, and Jorge Villafana was inserted on the left.

But there were yet more injuries. Lletget hurt his left ankle on Ever Alvarado's tackle and was replaced in the 18th minute, and defender John Brooks was stretchered off the field, hand over his face, in the 69th due to dehydration.

From the opening whistle, the U.S. played more aggressively than in the latter years of Klinsmann's reign. Arena revamped the midfield, giving a prominent role to Pulisic, who last week became the youngest American to score in the Champions League. He inserted Lletget and Nagbe, who were largely overlooked by Klinsmann last year, on the flanks.

The U.S. went ahead when Jozy Altidore picked up a loose ball and on his second try poked the ball ahead to Pulisic. His left-footed shot that went off goalkeeper Donis Escobar, and Lletget tapped in the ball with his right foot from 2 yards.

Bradley, given his debut by Arena in 2006, doubled the lead when he took a pass from Alejando Bedoya, cut to his left, took four touches and cut the ball back to beat Escobar with one-hopper from about 25 yards.

Showing poise beyond his years, Pulisic created the third goal when he lofted a pass to Dempsey, who allowed the ball of bounce off his right shoulder. Dempsey held off Henry Figueroa and while falling scored with his right foot from 8 yards.