Antti Niemi hasn’t been an all around rock in goal. He hasn’t gained the rave reviews that Dwayne Roloson, Pekka Rinne or Tim Thomas have received this postseason. He’s had his off games and he’s been pulled twice in the playoffs. Yes, he won the Stanley Cup last season with Chicago, but the Blackhawks apparently felt they could win without him and - more importantly – the $2.75 million salary he was awarded in arbitration.
However, it is his Stanley Cup experience that could make this year’s Sharks team different from the teams of the past.
Out of all of the players on this year’s San Jose Sharks, Niemi stands with Dan Boyle, Ben Eager, Kent Huskins and Niclas Wallin as players who hold Stanley Cup rings. On Vancouver, only Mikael Samuelsson has a ring.
The fact that he’s backstopped a team to the Cup before and that he’s never lost a playoff series set Niemi apart from the vast majority of the other players in this series. However, he’ll need a big win tonight if his Sharks team hopes to carry on in these playoffs.
San Jose needs to win one game in Vancouver in order to win this series. If they’re not able to do so tonight, it will have to be game five (or maybe even game seven) where the pressure will be even greater. Niemi has shown that he can elevate his game when needed and tonight would be a good place to start.
A post by Tim Kolupanowich of the Hockey Writers called Niemi “A Modern Day Grant Fuhr” due to his ability to make timely saves when they’re needed, despite playing a relative average game otherwise. That evaluation is quite true.
His individual stats aren’t going to put him in the record books, but his tendency to play well under pressure might.
His play in the Detroit series was somewhat suspect at times, particularly during games five and six. His play in game seven, however, was anything but shaky. Niemi made 38 saves in that critical game including 16 in the second period. Without him, the Canucks would likely be playing Detroit right now.
Tonight is another huge game for Niemi.
Yes, the series will carry on if the Sharks lose this game, but they’ll be in a hole that will be very difficult to climb out of. Whether or not Niemi can put together another strong performance tonight will determine how well San Jose does in this series. If Niemi falters, the Sharks could be down 2-0 and in serious trouble. If Niemi is strong today, we have a totally different series.
Niemi knows this. His playoff experience will definitely come into play tonight when the Sharks take to the ice in Vancouver.
Despite having an unspectacular stat line that reads 3.01 GAA and .908 SV%, Niemi will be counted on to deliver a win tonight. Whether or not he can do it remains to be seen.