Mike Halford

Dallas Stars goalie Antti Niemi (31) subs in for goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Dallas. The Stars won 6-5. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Stars to stick with Niemi tonight, Ruff ‘tired of explaining our two goalie thing’

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Most teams wouldn’t park their starting netminder after he won two of his first three playoff starts.

The Dallas Stars aren’t most teams, however.

After Kari Lehtonen backstopped Dallas to a 2-1 series lead over Minnesota, Stars head coach Lindy Ruff went to Antti Niemi for Game 4, and Niemi responded with 28 saves in a 3-2 win.

Now, with the Stars on the verge of closing out the Wild, Niemi will be back in goal tonight.

It’s an unconventional methodology, to say the least, but one that’s gotten the job done — which is partly why Ruff said he’s tired of talking about it.

“I’ve been asked this almost 82 games this year,” Ruff said, per the Dallas Morning-News. “I’m tired of explaining our two goalie thing, but it’s been working and it’s been a good option for us.”

To be fair, Dallas’ goaltending situation has been unique for a long time.

Ever since GM Jim Nill went out and acquired Niemi at the draft, then signed him to a three-year, $13.5 million contract, the plan was to have both goalies play significant minutes this year, and share starting duties.

“Travel in the West is probably as tough as it can get, and in Dallas, probably worse than a lot of other teams,” he explained, per NHL.com. “Between the travel, the back-to-back situations, how close our division — if it’s not the toughest, it’s one of the toughest — the competition, a win here on the road, a win there in a back-to-back, if a goalie gets injured, we know we now have that covered.”

At some point, everyone assumed Dallas would have to anoint a clear-cut, this-is-our-guy, No. 1 netminder. Most assumed that decision would come in the playoffs.

But the Stars figured, hey, the goalie tandem worked for us all year long, and we did finish atop the Western Conference.

So why not try it in the postseason?

“We’re comfortable using both of them,” Ruff explained. “And both these guys have done a real good job.”

Caps rule out Orpik again, Trotz won’t answer concussion questions


Brooks Orpik will miss his second straight game on Friday night, still feeling the effects of a heavy Ryan White hit from Game 3.

Orpik’s head coach, Barry Trotz, isn’t saying anything about the nature of the injury.

Orpik, who has a history of concussions, appeared dazed after his head hit the glass on the White hit, and needed help leaving the ice.

Taylor Chorney drew in for Game 4 — Washington’s first loss of the playoffs — and, at the time, the club did say that Orpik was “doing better.”

A valuable penalty killer and one of the team’s alternate captains, Orpik had logged pretty significant minutes during the opening two games of the series — 21:56 in Game 1, 21:33 in Game 2.

‘It’s a big loss’ — Isles pretty sure Pulock’s done for series

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 17: Ryan Pulock #6 of the New York Islanders celebrates his powerplay goal at 5:21 of the second period against the Florida Panthers during Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Barclays Center on April 17, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Isles came into their first-round series against Florida having already lost Anders Lee, Jaroslav Halak and Mikhail Grabovski to injury.

Now, you can add another one to the list.

Talented rookie d-man Ryan Pulock, who had three points through the first four games of the series, is unlikely to return after being sidelined with an upper-body injury.

“We’re pretty sure he’s going to miss the rest of the series,” Isles head coach Jack Capuano told Newsday. “It’s a big loss. He’s a young guy who was playing real well, he had a couple points, a big goal [in Game 3].

“It’s a little more adversity we’ll have to battle back from.”

Though Pulock was only averaging 14:45 a night, his presence will be missed. A former first-round pick, the 21-year-old has good offensive talent and was named to the AHL’s All-Star Game in January.

If Capuano wants to insert another right-handed defenseman, veteran Marek Zidlicky could be an option.

The 39-year-old has plenty of playoff experience — 44 games, including a Stanley Cup run with the Devils in ’12 — but only appeared in 53 contests for the Isles this year, with his last one coming on the final day of the regular season.

Game 5 goes tonight in Florida. Should Zidlicky draw in, he’d be making his series debut.

Stayin’ alive: Kane beats Blues in double OT, forces Game 6


It took Patrick Kane a while to make his mark on this series.

But when he did, he made it count.

Kane scored the double-OT winner against the Blues on Thursday night, giving the ‘Hawks a 4-3 win while staving off elimination, forcing a Game 6 back in Chicago.

The goal came just 3:07 into the fifth period, capping off a tremendously entertaining affair. Chicago looked to have things in control heading into the third up 3-1 — thanks to goals from Marian Hossa, Artem Anisimov and Artemi Panarin — but St. Louis rallied back in the final regulation frame.

Robby Fabbri scored his first-ever playoff goal at the 6:57 mark and, just under eight minutes later, Blues captain David Backes scored to knot the game at 3-3.

That set the stage for a quality first OT session, in which the teams traded chances throughout.

Kane’s goal decided things in the second extra frame and, as mentioned above, it was his first major impact on the series. The NHL’s leading scorer during the regular season, Kane had failed to find the back of the net through the first four games of the series, though he did have four assists.

As is often the case in multiple-OT affairs, the goalies played key roles. Corey Crawford was great, stopping 43 of 46 shots for a .935 save percentage. Brian Elliott, who came into this game boasting a .958 save percentage, stopped 31 of 35.

For Chicago — well, it was a case of history repeating itself. Kane’s scored so many big, decisive goals during the Blackhawks’ three Stanley Cup runs, and tonight’s could go a long way in shifting the series momentum.

In addition to forcing a Game 6 back at the United Center, tonight’s GWG also ensures that Andrew Shaw will get a chance to draw back into the lineup after serving a one-game suspension for yelling a homophobic slur.

For St. Louis — once again, the club’s resiliency will be tested.

This was a chance to close out the series on home ice, in a game which the Blues out-shot the ‘Hawks by a fair margin. For a team that’s failed to get out of Round 1 for three straight years, any missed opportunity to advance is costly.

These two teams will meet again on Saturday, when the ‘Hawks host the Blues at 8 p.m. ET. You can catch the game on NBC.

Datsyuk will take time before deciding playing future


After the Red Wings were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs on Thursday night, the focus quickly shifted from the end of their season to the future of their superstar.

Pavel Datsyuk, who suggested he was “done playing in the NHL” earlier this month, was asked the big question in the aftermath of Detroit’s 1-0 loss to Tampa Bay — what does the future have in store?

The answer, from the Free Press:

“I can’t believe we lost,” he said. “Really emotional.”

Datsyuk has a year left on his contract but has said he wants to return to his native Russia to play before fans there and to be near his daughter from his first marriage.

He needs time to consider what is right for him and his family, and weigh it against potentially hurting the team that’s meant so much to him the past 14 seasons.

“I’m not thinking about two days or how many days,” Datsyuk said. “I need a little bit cool down and emotions go out and start thinking about it more.”

If this was Datsyuk’s final salvo in a Detroit uniform… well, it didn’t go very well.

The 37-year-old struggled mightily against the Bolts, going pointless over the five-game series. After firing seven shots on goal in the opener, Datsyuk put just eight on net in the following three games and had three more tonight.

His departure, should it happen, would prove complicated for Detroit. He has one year remaining on a contract that carries a $7.5M cap hit, meaning the club would most likely need to move his deal.

Datsyuk has been hobbled by injuries over the last few years, but, as the ’14-15 campaign attested, can still play at an elite level when healthy. The “Magic Man” was a point-a-game player — 65 in 63 games — and was a key catalyst in keeping Detroit’s consecutive playoff appearance streak alive.

His head coach, Jeff Blashill, would definitely like to see him back.

“Pavel is one of the best competitors there will ever be in this league,” per the Free Press. “He was amazing to coach this year. I hope I get a chance to coach him again next year. His work ethic is unreal.”