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.
Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk has been the most difficult goalies to score against this season. Leave it to a high-level player like Leon Draisaitl to make it look this, well, “easy.”
Draisaitl scored his 13th goal of 2016-17 by capping this pretty give-and-go play with Benoit Pouliot. You can see the frustration from Dubnyk at the end of the tally, as if he was saying “How was I supposed to stop that?” (though probably with more colorful language).
Draisaitl came into Friday with five goals and three assists in his last five games, so he’s been almost unstoppable lately.
Read more about his rise here.
In his fifth NHL game, intriguing Washington Capitals prospect Jakub Vrana scored his first NHL goal (and point).
Let’s be honest, though; Evgeny Kuznetsov deserves plenty of the credit, as he sent a fantastic pass for Vrana’s tap-in tally.
See it for yourself:
Even if that was mostly Kuznetsov, Vrana has been getting his chances so far.
He generated four shots on goal in two separate occasions so far in his four games of NHL action, so maybe he was due for a chance like this.
Considering he’s just 20 years old, the Capitals could get used to Kuznetsov to Vrana.
Update: The Capitals won 4-1, and Vrana’s first goal wasn’t the only noteworthy “first.” After piling on shots, John Carlson finally scored his first goal of the season:
No one’s going to confuse Dmitry Kulikov with Jack Eichel, but the Buffalo Sabres are likely happy to have him back after a long absence, too.
The Sabres have been on an upward trend lately (5-2-2 in their last nine games), and now they get a key defenseman back against the Washington Capitals on Friday night.
Kulikov last played on Nov. 9 and hasn’t recorded a point in 12 games, making for a tough start to his stint with the Sabres. Maybe he’ll begin to get a little more traction with his new team tonight?
He’s far from the only returning Buffalo player, either, as Josh Gorges and Nicolas Deslauriers are also back in the mix. Kulikov is slated to be on the Sabres’ second pairing with Cody Franson.
Buffalo sent Brendan Guhle to the AHL to make room for these tweaks.
The Columbus Blue Jackets will be without captain Nick Foligno because of an illness on Friday, opening up an opportunity for interesting prospect Oliver Bjorkstrand.
The team tweeted out his linemates as Matt Calvert and Lukas Sedlak as a solid fourth line facing the Detroit Red Wings.
He failed to generate much (zero points, two shots on goal) in three games so far with Columbus this season, receiving about 25 minutes of ice time over that span.
With eight goals and 12 points in 19 AHL games so far in 2016-17, there’s the thought that he could eventually make the next step to becoming a decent contributor for the Blue Jackets.
Perhaps this will constitute his first real step in that direction?
Apparently this is a pretty abrupt situation for the 21-year-old: