Anaheim Ducks v San Jose Sharks

Antti Niemi to start against Blackhawks tonight – Awkward?

Tonight in San Jose, the Sharks take on the Chicago Blackhawks for the first time since Chicago knocked San Jose out of the Western Conference finals. Since then, plenty has changed for both teams but the one thing that unites the two teams is goalie Antti Niemi. Last year, it was Niemi playing strong in goal for Chicago and leading them to their first Stanley Cup since the 1960s.

Once the off-season began, things changed in a big way for everyone involved. Now, Niemi is the part-time starter for the San Jose Sharks after being let go by Chicago during their tumultuous salary cap hell off-season. Instead of Niemi suiting up for Chicago and trying to win back-to-back Cups, it’s Marty Turco’s job to lead the Blackhawks.

If you think Antti Niemi isn’t excited about facing off against the team that he helped win hockey’s ultimate prize and then walked away from him, you’d be fooling yourself. David Pollak of Working the Corners gets the scoop from the Finnish netminder.

“Of course I was really excited,” Niemi said. “It doesn’t really matter who we’re playing against, I want to play. I felt pretty good when they told  me I would play.”

He said it was the first time he’ll be facing a team he once played on and was asked if he saw this game as closure on his time with the Blackhawks.

“It feels funny playing against your old teammates, but it’s part of the process,” Niemi said. “It’s one more part of  closure on last year.”

Closure for sure but with guys like Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, and Patrick Kane still roaming the ice for Chicago you have to wonder if they know of any weaknesses on Niemi. CSN Chicago’s Tracey Myers finds out Kane knows just where to shoot.

“I’m not going to tell you guys, but I think I know what I’ll shoot,” Patrick Kane said of his shot selection. But Kane knows facing Niemi won’t be easy.

“He has unbelievable lateral movement. If you move him side to side have to pick it up. He’s one of the best I’ve ever seen with that. He did a lot of good things for us.”

While all that is going on down on the ice, you have to wonder if the teams general managers will have a chat at all. After all, Sharks GM Doug Wilson signed Niemi and also tried to sign away Niklas Hjalmarsson as well this off-season. Chicago matched an offer sheet the Sharks signed Hjalmarsson to, a signing that put the screws to Chicago GM Stan Bowman to eventually walk away from Niemi’s arbitration decision because it was too costly.

The biggest thing for San Jose starting Niemi is trying to get him right. While Antero Niittymaki has been solid for the Sharks, Niemi’s been a bit of a letdown. In seven games this year, Niemi’s save percentage is a paltry .878 while his goals against average is 3.91. Getting Niemi a motivated start against his former team might be the spark he needs to get things turned around lest Niittymaki be forced into a role as the team’s full-time starter.

Pens coach praises Murray: ‘He doesn’t get rattled’

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Hot take: the Pittsburgh Penguins probably won’t deal with a goalie controversy going into Game 7.

(Ugh, that’s a failed hot take … you can’t use “probably” in those things, right?)

Matt Murray was fantastic at times during Game 6, much like his counterpart in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s net in a 5-2 win. Granted, there were some tense moments during the Bolts’ late-game push:

Much has been made about experience, especially from those calling for Marc-Andre Fleury earlier in this series. It’s telling that the praise Murray draws sure sounds like what you’d expect from a “veteran.”

“He has a calming influence,” Sullivan said. “He doesn’t get rattled. If he lets a goal in, he just continues to compete. That’s usually an attribute that usually takes years to acquire that, and to have it at such a young age is impressive.”

Thanks in part to Murray’s efforts in Game 6, he’ll get a chance to prove his resolve in something new: a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Final.

Once again, his teammates seem pretty confident in this elimination situation.

Lightning lament Game 6 effort, Cooper doesn’t blame disallowed goal

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The Tampa Bay Lightning seemed to sleepwalk through the first two periods of Game 6, and waking up in the final frame wasn’t enough to edge the Pittsburgh Penguins.

On the bright side, at least the Lightning aren’t in denial about that weak first 40 minutes.

It seemed like everyone on the team more or less admitted as much in unison.

Brian Boyle added that he felt like the Lightning tiptoed around this game. Jon Cooper often provides great quips, yet he was pretty matter-of-fact in this case.

Many will linger on this disallowed goal for Jonathan Drouin, which would have provided a 1-0 lead for Tampa Bay in the first period.

Let’s face it; that moment came pretty early in the game. To Tampa Bay’s credit, they’re not pinning the loss on that setback.

Now they must set their sights on competing throughout Game 7 … and maybe earning some bounces of their own in the process.

Read more about Game 6 here.

Penguins force Game 7 after holding off Lightning rally

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The Pittsburgh Penguins played with fire late in Game 6, but they also showed plenty of fire in beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2.

With that, this thrilling Eastern Conference Final will go the distance with Game 7 on Thursday.

There are at least a few “What if?” scenarios to consider, especially for the Lightning.

What if that offside goal counted?

Jonathan Drouin played some fantastic hockey on Tuesday, yet his most memorable moment came via something that ultimately “didn’t happen.” An offside call on a goal review kept a 1-0 lead from happening for Tampa Bay:

Instead, the Penguins poured it on during the first period and eventually went up 1-0. They then carried that momentum over through the second period, adding two more goals to go up 3-0 heading into the final frame.

What if Tampa Bay played more like they did in the third period?

The difference between the level of play in the first 40 minutes and the final frame were night-and-day.

Now, you can make a chicken-and-the-egg argument here. Did the Penguins take their feet off the gas with that lead? Maybe Jon Cooper finally unleashed the hounds when the Lightning were facing a big deficit?

Maybe it’s a combination of those factors; either way, the Bolts couldn’t come all the way back even after making it interesting. At one point the game was 3-2 before a Bryan Rust breakaway goal and an empty-netter put things out of reach.

Both Matt Murray and Andrei Vasilevskiy faced plenty of tough chances and came through more often than not. We’ll see if there are any goal controversy rumblings, but each netminder came through at times tonight.

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Now the series shifts back to Pittsburgh for Game 7 with a Stanley Cup Final on the line. Excited and/or nervous yet?

More: Great goals by Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel.

Sidney Crosby scores a superstar goal

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With the Pittsburgh Penguins’ season on the line in Game 6, plenty of eyes are on big guns Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Phil Kessel.

Those marquee names are really coming through so far as they’ve now built a 3-0 lead through two periods against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

You likely already saw Kessel’s display of high-end hand-eye coordination (if not, check it here). Kris Letang scored his first goal of the series to make it 2-0 on a very tricky, well-placed shot.

The highlight really might be Crosby’s tally, though. He left multiple Lightning players baffled and beat a very-much-game Andrei Vasilevskiy to beef that lead up 3-0.