Antti Niemi

Antti Niemi is San Jose’s rock in goal

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The San Jose Sharks owe much of the credit to their strong finish last season to goaltender Antti Niemi. What’s not so strange about giving credit to him is that he’s been everything they hoped he would be since coming over from Chicago three years ago.

After not getting a lot of credit for helping the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup in 2010, Niemi arrived in San Jose thanks to some nifty salary cap strategy by GM Doug Wilson. Chicago wanted to hang on to Niemi but after the Sharks forced their hand to retain then restricted free agent Niklas Hjalmarsson via offer sheet, the cap strapped ‘Hawks had to let Niemi go when San Jose pounced on him.

Since then, he’s been the rock in goal for the Sharks that Evgeni Nabokov wasn’t.

The past three seasons have been sneakily great for the Finnish netminder. Check out his numbers while he’s been in San Jose:

2010-2011:   35-18-6   .920   2.38
2011-2012:   34-22-9   .915   2.42
2012-2013:   24-12-6   .924   2.16

What makes his stats last season so incredible is he led the NHL in not just wins but also minutes played. With a workload like that, you’d expect him to wear down. Instead, he was just as strong through the playoffs and was only unseated by a white-hot Jonathan Quick and the L.A. Kings. No wonder he was a Vezina Trophy finalist.

When you compare those numbers to what Nabokov did at the same age (27-29) in San Jose, Niemi stands even taller. The Sharks also didn’t hear many questions or worries about how Niemi would hold up in the playoffs, something that often occurred (still occurs?) with Nabokov.

Now the Sharks just have to hope new backup Alex Stalock can help make sure he stays fresh deep into next season and the playoffs. With Niemi having a great chance to make the Finnish Olympic team, they’ll need that help.

San Jose may not have known at the time that they made a big upgrade in goal when they signed Niemi, but that’s just what they got.

Talk about a Wild comeback for Minnesota

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The Minnesota Wild took back sole possession of the lead in the Central Division, thanks to a thrilling comeback win over the Pacific Division-leading Anaheim Ducks on Saturday.

Minnesota trailed 3-1 early in the second period. Jason Zucker closed the deficit in the middle period, before they took the lead for good thanks to a frenzy of three goals from Erik Haula, Ryan Suter and Zucker in 1:59 late in regulation for a 5-3 victory.

“When we came in in between the second and third, knowing we were only down a goal, and knowing our history, we didn’t think we were out of it,” said coach Bruce Boudreau, per the Pioneer Press.

And so the Wild remain one of the hottest teams in the league, leading Chicago by two points.

While it’s a comeback for them, the Ducks don’t quite see it the same way.

“It’s not what they did, to be honest. We self-imploded. Gave up too many opportunities, left our goalie out to dry,” said Cam Fowler.

Additional bad news for the Ducks, however, was that goalie John Gibson left the game in the second period with an upper-body injury, and didn’t return.

 

Bust a move: Capitals win includes unlikely OT hero and dad’s dancing in Dallas

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The usual suspects contributed for the Washington Capitals on Saturday. Down a pair of goals entering the third period, Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie helped ignite the comeback on the power play.

But then an unlikely hero emerged.

Jay Beagle scored his 10th goal of the season and the overtime winner to give Washington a 4-3 victory over the Dallas Stars. That aforementioned goal total matches his previous career high from two seasons ago.

He initially accomplished the feat over the course of 62 games. This time, he hits 10 goals in 46 games played.

Officials needed to review the play, although replays quickly showed the puck over the line from the Beagle shot in the slot.

The comeback win led to a memorable post-game celebration.

Disclaimer: Don’t try this at home.

The Capitals maintain their lead in the Metropolitan Division ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

This game versus the Stars included some feisty moments, particularly in the first period when tempers boiled over. Tom Wilson and Brett Ritchie dropped the gloves for a lengthy fight. Three seconds later, Daniel Winnik fought Antoine Roussel.

Ducks goalie Gibson leaves game versus Wild with upper-body injury

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 01:  Goaltender John Gibson #36 of the Anaheim Ducks in action during the preseason NHL game against Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on October 1, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) Anaheim goaltender John Gibson has left Saturday’s game against Minnesota with an upper-body injury.

A short-angle shot from Mikko Koivu appeared to hit Gibson in the upper chest with 5:39 to play in the first period. The goaltender immediately went down on one knee and was quickly attended to by a trainer. Gibson gingerly skated to the bench and went straight to the locker room.

Anaheim announced that Gibson is doubtful to return.

Gibson is 7-1-1 with two shutouts in his past nine starts. He was replaced by Jonathan Bernier.

Gibson stopped four of five shots he faced while making his fourth straight start.

Playoff hopes take a jolt: Coyotes crush Bishop and the Bolts

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning tends net against the New York Islanders during the second period at the Barclays Center on November 1, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Of the surprises in the NHL so far this season, the Tampa Bay Lightning has to be right up there on the list.

In 2015, they went to the Stanley Cup Final. The future had looked bright, but this signified the Bolts’ arrival into the top tier of teams in the league. Last season, they made it to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final and lost to the eventual champions from Pittsburgh. That was a playoff run that did not include Steven Stamkos until the deciding game of the East final.

This year? The Bolts are currently not in a playoff position. They’ve had issues defensively. They’ve had issues on offense. They’ve had issues with goaltending. They’ve dealt with injuries or illness to key players like Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, and other important members of their lineup.

Looking to gain ground in the playoff chase, the Bolts had what looked to be the perfect opponent to mend their troubles — at least for one game. On Saturday, Tampa Bay faced the Arizona Coyotes, losers of four in a row and sitting above only Colorado in the Western Conference standings.

The perfect remedy, right?

Wrong. So wrong.

The Bolts lost 5-3, mostly because of a disastrous opening two periods. Ben Bishop started and was pulled after 40 minutes, allowing five goals on 17 shots.

Down a goal after the first period, things went south for the Bolts in the middle period. The Coyotes — one of only two teams in the entire league still stuck under 100 goals-for entering this game — beat Bishop for three goals on just nine shots in the second.

The Bolts are dead last in the Atlantic Division, five points back of third-place Boston. They are four points back of Toronto for the final wild card spot, but there are seven teams ahead of Tampa Bay in that race.

There is still lots of time left in the season. But the Bolts had stressed the importance and urgency needed on this current six-game road trip, and they haven’t delivered.

A loss to the Coyotes would certainly seem like rock bottom.