PHOENIX – After turning aside 30 Coyotes shots and helping the Sharks to a 3-2 win in Phoenix in their final game of the regular season, Antti Niemi said he didn’t know who was starting Game 1 of the playoffs when the Sharks host the Los Angeles Kings next week.
He sounded sincere, even though he’s probably the odds-on favorite to be between the pipes for the Sharks’ next game.
Regardless, just like Alex Stalock did on Friday against Colorado, Niemi played well in his final tune-up before the postseason. He made several difficult stops in the second and third periods, and rebounded from Wednesday night’s disastrous outing in Anaheim when he was pulled in what was the team’s most important game of the season to that point.
“It’s going to be nicer to go to the playoffs with a win, and a good game,” Niemi said.
Niemi finished the regular season with a career high 39 wins (39-17-7), a 2.39 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage. Stalock was 12-5-2 with a 1.87 GAA and .932 save percentage.
Niemi was asked to evaluate his own game headed into the playoffs.
“It’s been a little up and down lately, having good games and a couple not so good,” he said. “All the way, I thought I felt pretty good in practice and felt really good today, so I think we’re in a pretty good spot.”
On Saturday, Niemi’s biggest stop came with just under four minutes to go in regulation, and the Sharks clinging to a 3-2 lead. Shane Doan, who earlier had beaten Niemi with a slap shot from the circle to the short side, tried to go five-hole on the San Jose goaltender.
He couldn’t find an opening.
“I was just waiting and being patient, and once he went to the backhand, I tried to get a quick and fast push,” Niemi said. “I didn’t know if I got it but I think it hit the blocker. Felt good after, of course.”
Perhaps it was the kind of save Niemi needed to fully regain his confidence. Prior to Saturday’s win, he was just 2-3-0 with a 3.36 GAA and .885 SP in his last five starts, including a number of soft goals that he simply doesn’t allow when he’s playing his best.
“I thought Nemo had a great night,” coach Todd McLellan said. “We needed him tonight, it wasn’t like we cruised through it. I thought he made some really good saves. He should have some confidence heading in.”
Joe Thornton expressed confidence in both goaltenders.
“Nemo played good. Al played good for us last night, and then Nemo. Hopefully goaltending’s a big plus for us in the postseason,” Thornton said.