Programming note: Coverage of Game 4 between the Sharks and Kings begins Thursday at 7:00 p.m. on CSN California with Sharks Pregame Live (Channel locations)
LOS ANGELES – Entering their first round series with the Kings, Antti Niemi was the biggest point of concern for the Sharks after an inconsistent regular season.
The goaltender wasn’t much of a factor in the first two games, as a scorching Sharks offense took full advantage of some soft defensive play the Kings. Niemi was good, stopping 55 of 60 shots, but he didn’t have to stand on his head.
In overtime of Game 3, though, the Sharks required Niemi to be on-point. The Kings came out a team possessed after the third intermission, knowing full well their season was probably on the line. Niemi was there, though, stopping all five shots he saw (on 10 shot attempts), several from just in front of the net, keeping the game alive for Patrick Marleau to end it on the Sharks’ first shot attempt in the extra session.
“They had a couple chances, a couple shots, a couple rebounds. They came pretty hard,” Niemi said on Wednesday.
The goaltender improved to 12-2 all-time in his career in playoff overtime games. His playoff overtime numbers with San Jose are staggering, as he’s 9-1 with a 0.53 goals-against average and .983 save percentage. He’s allowed just one goal in 113 minutes, stopping 58 of 59 shots, with the only loss coming in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final in 2011 in double overtime (credit Darin Stephens and Elias Sports Bureau).
It would make sense that his previous overtime success, including a Stanley Cup-clinching win with Chicago, would give Niemi confidence headed into the extra time.
But the 30-year-old indicated that it doesn’t mean a whole lot to him.
“No, I would have never thought about that,” he said. “Just have to focus on the next shot.”
Playoff overtimes are a bit nerve-wracking, though, right?
“It’s very exciting, of course,” he said. “Just play the way we played before, and don’t think about it too much.”
Logan Couture, who wasn’t aware of Niemi’s past overtime success until he saw it on Twitter on Wednesday morning, gave Niemi more praise than the goaltender wanted to give himself.
“He made some big saves for us last night in overtime,” Couture said. “He’s the type of guy that under pressure, he plays his best. All of us in the room believe in Nemo.”
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Mike Brown has been one of the Sharks’ most physical players in the series, but said on Wednesday it’s been an entire team effort in that regard, from the top down.
“The thing about this series is you’re seeing it all spread it out. You’re seeing your Marleau, your [Joe] Thornton – the top guys are finishing their checks and that’s what gets the rest of the guys going, when your skill guys are doing stuff like that,” Brown said. “You’re seeing it from all four lines. You’re seeing the physicality, so it is one of the most physical series I’ve been in.”
For the third straight game, Brown seemed to irritate Kings goalie Jonathan Quick. In the third period, the goaltender took a ridiculous looking dive when Brown brushed up against him behind the net, but no penalty was called.
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Justin Braun said he’s OK for Game 4, after he was seen walking gingerly from the arena moments after Game 3. Braun said he was banged up blocking a shot, forcing him to miss a few shifts on Tuesday.
His +6 playoff rating, paired primarily with Brad Stuart, leads the NHL.
“It’s a good chemistry back there,” Braun said.
Todd McLellan said: “We’re like everybody else, there are some bumps and bruises floating around every team. If you’re not bumped and bruised, you’re probably out. That’s just the way it is. It comes with the territory.”
“If they don’t have bumps and bruises, I’d really question their character. He’s fine.”
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The Sharks held an optional practice on Wednesday at 11 a.m., but the majority of regulars did not skate.
Niemi, Brown and Raffi Torres were the only players that skated in Game 3 that practiced on Wednesday morning.