SAN JOSE -- In the end, it appears Sharks goalie Antti Niemi and coach Todd McLellan were entertaining themselves at the expense of the local media in regards to the starting goaltender question the past few days.
(It’s cool, though. We can take it.)
No one was surprised when Niemi was the first goalie off of the SAP Center ice on Thursday morning, indicating he would be in net to begin Game 1.
"He's our go-to guy. Simple as that. He has been our go-to guy for four years, he's our go-to guy in Game 1,” McLellan said.
“I can tell you this, there wasn't near the amount of debate with the four of us in the coaches' room as there was with a whole bunch of you outside the coaches' room. But, it was fun."
Earlier in the week, Niemi said that he sometimes has to text back up Alex Stalock the night before a game to find out who’s starting. Did he text Al last night?
“I texted Al. Al texted Wayne [Thomas],” Niemi said with a grin, referring to the Sharks’ assistant GM/goalie coach.
Fun and games aside, Niemi’s struggles in the second half of the season can’t be overlooked. He allowed some particularly soft goals that he wasn’t letting through in the shortened 2013 campaign, when he earned himself a Vezina Trophy nomination. Stalock, conversely, has been solid, and is better at handling the puck.
Niemi's best game over the past two weeks, though, was against Los Angeles on April. He made 26 saves as San Jose earned a 2-1 win in a game in which it threw a franchise-record 52 hits.
His performance that night wasn’t an abnormality, as he’s 7-0 with one no-decision against the Kings in eight career SAP Center starts against them.
“I think it probably had to do with the history, and [at] the time, it looked possible that we might face them,” Niemi said of that win. “I enjoy playing against them.”
Niemi also has a Stanley Cup, of course, backstopping a powerful Blackhawks team to the 2010 title. He said that he considers himself a guy that raises his game in the playoffs, where he is a career 32-23 with a 2.65 GAA and .909 SP.
“For sure, there is more emotion involved,” he said. “Just a tighter spot, and it’s fun to play playoffs.”
Niemi will oppose Jonathan Quick, who is 25-13 with a 1.62 goals-against average and .940 save percentage since the start of the 2012 playoffs. The Sharks’ goalie will have to be at the top of his game against one of the top postseason goalies in the league, if not the best.
“It’s going to be a great night tonight starting at home, playing against one of the top teams. It’s going to be a hard, fast game,” Niemi said.