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SAN JOSE – Sharks goalie Antti Niemi admitted on Friday that his 26-save performance in a win over the Kings was an important one as the playoffs draw ever closer.
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In his six previous games, the goalie that is almost assuredly going to start Game 1 of the playoffs was 3-2-1, with just a 2.82 goals-against average and .892 save percentage. He had allowed four goals in each of his last two starts, a 4-3 loss to Winnipeg and 5-4 win over Edmonton.
“Two games back-to-back, giving up a couple too many goals. So, it was a big, big comeback for me, too,” Niemi said.
For the season, Niemi is second in the NHL with 38 wins, one behind Colorado's Semyon Varlamov. His 2.36 goals-against average is 14th in the league, while his .913 save percentage places him 26th.
Against the Kings, he allowed only a double-deflected puck to get past him. In the final minute of regulation, he smothered an attempt from the faceoff dot by Anze Kopitar to preserve the San Jose win.
“It was a quick play, but I tried to cover most of the net,” he said.
Niemi actually may have been aided by the Kings’ strong first period. Los Angeles scored its only goal just 3:36 into the game, but had the majority of the zone time throughout the opening frame.
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Niemi stopped nine of the 10 shots he saw, and could not be blamed for a puck that hit Jarret Stoll’s stick, then tipped off of Jordan Nolan’s blade before creeping into the net.
“He’s always been at his best with a heavier workload, not only games played, but even within the games,” Todd McLellan said. “They are a big team and there’s a lot of action going on in and around the net. Does it help him? I don’t know, but he’s proven to have success in those types of situations.”
As with the rest of his teammates, Niemi seemed to thrive in the heaviness a game with the Kings typically brings. In fact, he’s 7-0-0 in his last eight home starts against the Sharks’ primary rival.
“It’s kind of easier to get into a game like that, when everybody is really ready for the game,” Niemi said.
Niemi’s up-and-down season has been well documented. McLellan was right to point out that no player on the roster or member of the coaching staff is going to be at their best on a nightly basis, but was pleased to see Niemi not allow any of the soft goals that have plagued him at times since the start of November.
“It was important for Nemo to have a good game against them, yes, but it’s important for him to take that good game and parlay it into another one, and another one, and keep going with it,” McLellan said.
“We expect him to play like that, and to make those saves.”