The San Jose Sharks have taken a page out of the Vancouver Canucks’ goaltending playbook.
(The playoff edition, not the one on how to handle having two No. 1s. That one was terrible.)
In a move eerily similar to Vancouver’s three years ago, the Sharks will give Antti Niemi the start tonight, at home, in Game 7, after he was parked for Game 6 and watched the opposition rally from an 0-3 deficit to even the series at three.
Niemi, held out of Monday’s 4-1 loss to the Kings in favor of Alex Stalock, will now return to the goal much like Roberto Luongo did in the opening round of the ’11 playoffs. Like the current-day Sharks, those Canucks raced out to a 3-0 series lead on Chicago, only to lose three straight — with Luongo getting benched in favor of Cory Schneider in Game 6.
If there’s a bright spot in the narrative for San Jose, it’s this: Luongo stopped 31 of 32 shots in Game 7 as the Canucks beat the ‘Hawks in OT.
The Sharks will need Niemi to put up a similar performance tonight if they hope to avoid the biggest postseason collapse in franchise history. Only three teams in NHL history have rallied from an 0-3 deficit to win the series — the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, the 1975 New York Islanders and the 2010 Philadelphia Flyers — and based on how the L.A. offense has been clicking lately, the Kings carry all the momentum into tonight.
Los Angeles has scored 13 goals in the last three games and caught fire on the power play, scoring five times with the man advantage in the last four games. That offensive explosion is a big reason why Niemi goes into Game 7 with very mediocre numbers — a 3.90 GAA and .882 save percentage.
The only goalie with weaker numbers these playoffs? Tampa Bay’s Anders Lindback, who was yanked twice in a four-game sweep against Montreal.
“Nope,” Dubinsky said. “You know, I’ve played the same way my whole career and I’m not going to change. The next time I have an opportunity to play (Crosby), I’m going to play him hard.”
In case you’re wondering, that next opportunity comes on Dec. 21 in Pittsburgh, assuming that both players are healthy and not suspended.
One can understand Dubinsky’s perspective, although such honesty would be that much more interesting if there’s another incident with Crosby. His initial reaction to the hit was interestingly candid, admitting that his “stick rode up” on his adversary.
Would that stance – which, from a harsher view, might seem flippant to Dubinsky’s critics – open the door for a bigger future bit of a discipline?
Maybe, maybe not … but at least his comments aren’t as inflammatory as what John Tortorella said (at least on the record).
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