SAN JOSE -- After a one-game break, San Jose Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi will return to the starting lineup Wednesday at SAP Center for Game 7 of their Western Conference First Round series against the Los Angeles Kings (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS2, PRIME, CSN-CA).
Backup Alex Stalock replaced Niemi in Game 6 and made his first start in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, a 4-1 loss to Los Angeles at Staples Center. Niemi was pulled for Stalock early in the third period of Game 4 and early in the second of Game 5.
"I think the break was good for [Niemi]," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said after an optional morning skate. "He got a chance to work on some things in his game that the goaltending coach wanted to work on. He got a chance to rest. Our team did need a change heading into Game 6 into L.A. Unfortunately, we had to pull him twice, but that wasn't all on Nemo's shoulders. It's pretty evident and obvious, I hope I've made that clear. But moving forward with Nemo, we want to give Nemo an opportunity."
Niemi allowed eight goals on 91 shots in the first three games when the Sharks bolted to a 3-0 lead in the best-of-7 series. In his next two starts, losses, he allowed eight goals on 45 shots.
Niemi said missing Game 6 could turn out to be a good thing for him.
"I got a couple extra practice days between, maybe work on some stuff," Niemi said. "Either way, having a day off from the game, not being so focused, maybe that's a good thing too."
Niemi won the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010, going 16-6 with a 2.63 goals-against average. He has played in 61 postseason games, including Game 7 of a second-round series in 2011 when the Sharks beat the Detroit Red Wings 3-2 and Game 7 of a second-round series against the Kings last year when he played well in a 2-1 loss at Staples Center.
"It's always a different situation, but of course it gives me a little extra confidence," Niemi said of his experience. "But it's more about what's happening today, and we've got to be ready to go."
Niemi said his confidence hasn't slipped after being benched for Game 6.
"No. The Game 6 morning skate I felt very good," Niemi said. "I felt good yesterday on the ice. I felt good today. I felt very good for a period of time. I don't think it matters."
When McLellan announced on the morning of Game 1 that Niemi would start, he called him his go-to guy. Wednesday, McLellan said Niemi and all of his top players have to produce to beat the Kings.
"For us to win tonight, or for them to win in that case, you'll hear clinches about how it's going to take the full team, and obviously it will, but I think our core and our team has to step up," McLellan said. "They were there early in the series. L.A.'s core has been there later in the series. Tonight is the deciding game. And in my opinion, Nemo is a very big part of that core. So they'll get a chance to perform in that Game 7."
For the second straight game the Sharks will be without top defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who sustained an upper-body injury in Game 5 when Kings forward Jarret Stoll checked him into the boards then delivered a forearm blow to the side of his head.
Defenseman Matt Irwin will start again in place of Vlasic.
Because the Sharks had an optional skate, they had no line rushes. But rookie Tomas Hertl wore a teal jersey, an indicator he'll likely open the game on the third line and that Joe Pavelski will open on the top line at left wing, along with center Joe Thornton and right wing Brent Burns.
Author: Eric Gilmore | NHL.com Staff Writer
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