Indeed, it will be Antti Niemi between the pipes for the Sharks on Thursday night against the Kings. He was the first off the ice in the morning skate and McLellan gave him the nod after the skate.
"He's our go-to guy," McLellan says to explain choice of Niemi to start— Helene Elliott (@helenenothelen) April 17, 2014
It was just a week ago that when he was asked if Niemi was going to be the guy for the playoffs McLellan said "he's one of our guys." Hardly a ringing endorsement but that tune changed some on Thursday.
Nobody every really expected that the Sharks would turn to Alex Stalock to start the series over Niemi. Niemi is their starter and has plenty of playoff experience that includes a Stanley Cup in Chicago. But with poor play down the stretch, McLellan stretched out his decision. At least publicly.
It was probably more of a message to Niemi more than anything else from his coach, to let him know he has to be better. In his last six games Niemi gave up 17 goals and had a save percentage of .895. He was pulled halfway through their critical game against the Ducks in Anaheim in the final week.
The Sharks have a team that many people believe could be their best yet in this decade run of making the playoffs and this might be the team that gets them to that first Stanley Cup Final. Certainly they do but they'll need Niemi to do his part as well if they want to get by the Kings in the first round, let alone get through the Western Conference.