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.
Kari Lehtonen might have been more hit than miss in the playoffs going into today’s action, but Game 2 against St. Louis was certainly a start he’d like to forget.
Dallas outshot St. Louis 10-5 in the first frame, but the Blues still managed to take a 3-1 lead. Antti Niemi replaced Lehtonen for the second period which means, barring another goalie change, Lehtonen will actually end up with a sub-.500 save percentage this afternoon.
The numbers obviously look bad and it’s hard not to blame Lehtonen in the face of that, but the Blues deserve a lot of the credit for those goals. Patrik Berglund had a great shot on goal for the first marker, Joel Edmundson‘s first career playoff goal came after a nice setup by Troy Brouwer, and when Brouwer collected his own goal it was off of a rebound during a power play.
So to an extent, you could say Lehtonen looked bad due to circumstances that were very unfavorable to him. Nevertheless, the Stars needed to shake things up after what was unquestionably a bad period for them.
Pittsburgh’s Pascal Dupuis, Florida’s Jaromir Jagr, and the Rangers’ Mats Zuccarello have been selected as the three finalists for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy.
The Masterton Trophy recognizes “the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.” In 2015 it went to Devan Dubnyk, who struggled mightily in 2013-14, but dramatically turned his career around the following season and led the Minnesota Wild to the playoffs in the process.
Dupuis attempted to play in the 2015-16 campaign while taking blood thinners, but on Dec. 8 he announced that he would stop playing “because of a medical condition related to blood clots.”
Jagr celebrated his 44th birthday in February, but despite his age he managed to score 27 goals and 66 points in 79 contests this season. With that, he became the oldest player to reach the 60-point mark in a single NHL campaign.
Zuccarello played in 81 games and set career-highs with 26 goals and 61 points this season after suffering a skull fracture and brain contusion during the 2015 playoffs that left him temporarily unable to speak.
The Anaheim Ducks might not have suffered a reverse sweep at the hands of one of their biggest rivals, but they seem to have reached a breaking point when it comes to playoff disappointments.
After firing head coach Bruce Boudreau, GM Bob Murray was highly critical of the team’s core, even noting that at this point he’s not a fan of long-term contracts. That was perhaps a swipe at how he feels Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf‘s eight-year $69 million and $66 million contracts have worked out thus far. Meanwhile Ryan Kesler‘s six-year deal worth roughly $41 million is about to begin.
After San Jose suffered its first round loss to the Los Angeles Kings in 2014, Sharks GM Doug Wilson said they were now becoming a “tomorrow team” and they began a cultural shift that included Joe Thornton losing the captaincy.
There are differences of course between the two situations. One notable one is that the Sharks’ guard was already starting to change hands in 2013-14. Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau were entering their mid-30s, but Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture were on the rise. Anaheim’s core of Getzlaf and Perry is significantly younger, but while Anaheim also has some promising forwards like Jakob Silfverberg, that generation of players doesn’t seem ready to carry the torch for the Ducks.
“We don’t have a lot of young guys in the lineup. … Today’s a much different feeling leaving the rink,” Ducks forward Andrew Cogliano said, per the Los Angeles Times. “In those [previous] years there’s been a sense of hope. Today, there’s zero feeling like that.”
Perhaps the Anaheim Ducks will find hope by watching the rest of the 2016 playoffs. If the San Jose Sharks continue to succeed, they will be an example of a team that once underachieved, hit a critical low, but then managed to fix that in a relatively short time without a massive turnover in terms of on-ice personnel. While we’re at it, you could make a similar argument for the Washington Capitals.
Maybe Murray will look to those franchises for inspiration as he moves forward.
Pittsburgh only won by a single goal in Game 2 on Saturday and that deciding marker came with 4:28 minutes remaining in the third, but that contest had the potential to be far more one-sided.
The Capitals were outshot 28-10 through 40 minutes and were consequently leaning on goaltender Braden Holtby to keep things close.
“First two periods, I thought they were way better than us,” Washington coach Barry Trotz told CSN Mid-Atlantic. Or has Justin Williams put it, the Capitals “were getting embarrassed out there” during the first 40 minutes.
Washington did rebound in the third period, though it wasn’t enough to prevent the Penguins from evening this series at 1-1. That puts the pressure on Washington to take at least one game in Pittsburgh before the second round’s over.
Starting the game off strong is always going to be important, but that’s particularly true when talking about the Penguins and Capitals. Pittsburgh was 39-0-0 in the regular season when leading after 40 minutes while Washington was 37-0-1. So far in the playoffs, both teams are 4-0-0 when they have the lead after two periods.