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Sharks Goalie Niemi Took Advantage of Time Off

Tuesday, 04.30.2013 / 1:45 PM / News
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Sharks Goalie Niemi Took Advantage of Time Off
Recuperated following long offseason, Antti Niemi enjoyed best season.

SAN JOSE, California - San Jose Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi didn't have to search hard to find a silver lining to the NHL lockout.

During the extended offseason, Niemi laid the groundwork for his best season with the Sharks, one that put him in contention for the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's top goaltender.

Niemi was in dire need of a long break when San Jose's season ended last year with a first-round loss to the St. Louis Blues in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He began that season on injured reserve after undergoing surgery before training camp to remove a cyst near a knee. He missed every preseason game and the first three regular-season games.

Although Niemi played 68 regular-season games and five playoff games, he never fully recovered from the surgery or regained the strength he had lost, especially in his legs.

But by the time camp opened this season in January, Niemi had his legs and his strength back. He's been quicker and stronger in the crease.

"I think the long time with no games, it probably helped me," Niemi said. "I think the lockout, in the long run, it's been a good thing for me. I just got stronger. My legs got stronger."

Antti Niemi
Goalie - SJS
RECORD: 24-12-6
GAA: 2.16 | SVP: 0.924
Niemi produced the best regular-season numbers of his career, helping the Sharks reach the playoffs for the ninth straight year. As the No. 6 seed in Western Conference they have a first-round matchup with the No. 3 seed Vancouver Canucks. His goals-against average of 2.16 and save percentage of .924 are career bests. He had 24 wins, tied for the most in the NHL.

"He feels fresh, strong, doesn't seem to fatigue as much, and when your conditioning has improved due to the lack of injury, then you can do those things," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said.

Sharks assistant general manager Wayne Thomas, who doubles as a goaltender coach, said Niemi's improved health has made a huge difference in his performance.

"He's a guy that likes to work," said Thomas, a former NHL goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers. "That's part of his preparation. It seems obvious, but some guys during the season like to mentally prepare and figure they're already physically prepared. But he likes to work between starts. Last year he wasn't able to do that, and I think that affected the mental part of the game, too."

Early last summer, Niemi did most of his work off the ice, concentrating on getting stronger and healthier. During the lockout he played 10 games in his native Finland before returning to San Jose, where he continued working with a personal coach and paying for his own ice time at a local rink.

"He definitely put a lot into the jar, and he's obviously got a lot to take out of it," Thomas said.

Niemi appeared in 43 of the Sharks' 48 regular-season games. As they made their playoff push, he started 24 straight games, a streak that ended when they clinched a postseason berth on April 23 with a 3-2 win over the Dallas Stars.

"He plays his best hockey when he plays a lot, and he's proven it year after year after year," McLellan said.

After the Sharks defeated the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 in a shootout earlier in that stretch, captain Joe Thornton was asked if that was Niemi's best game.

"He's been great for a long time," Thornton said. "Last night he was great, tonight he was great. Three games ago he was great. Every night he gives us a chance to win. I think he's the best goalie in the world."

As Niemi worked his way back into top shape during the offseason, he concentrated on a more modest goal.

"I think every year there's been really hot streaks, but I think what's been my goal is to be as consistent as possible, because I know my top level is good enough," said Niemi, who won the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks three years ago. "So I think it's being there as often as I can. I think it's been the most consistent year, for sure. That's what I wanted."

Forward TJ Galiardi said Niemi has been the Sharks' rock all season.

"Nemo's just really calm and in the zone," Galiardi said. "He's the clear Vezina guy, if you think about it. If he was playing in a big market, like in a Canadian city, you wouldn't stop hearing about him. That's how good he's been.

"Even when we went that month or month-and-a-half of playing terrible hockey, if it wasn't for him we would have lost every single one of those games, blown out. You can't say enough about Nemo. He's unreal. Having that confidence that you got a goalie in there that's going to make that save for you just makes everyone around him better."

Author: Eric Gilmore | Correspondent




1 ANA 48 32 10 6 143 124 70
2 NSH 46 31 10 5 141 107 67
3 STL 46 29 13 4 148 111 62
4 CHI 47 30 15 2 148 108 62
5 WPG 49 26 15 8 138 122 60
6 SJS 48 25 17 6 131 132 56
7 VAN 46 26 17 3 124 118 55
8 CGY 48 26 19 3 140 126 55
9 LAK 47 20 15 12 129 126 52
10 COL 49 20 18 11 128 141 51
11 DAL 47 21 19 7 146 154 49
12 MIN 47 21 20 6 130 138 48
13 ARI 47 16 25 6 108 160 38
14 EDM 48 12 27 9 110 160 33


J. Pavelski 48 24 18 10 42
L. Couture 48 18 24 2 42
J. Thornton 44 10 27 0 37
B. Burns 48 11 24 -6 35
P. Marleau 48 9 24 -10 33
T. Wingels 47 11 14 -2 25
J. Braun 47 1 18 4 19
T. Hertl 48 8 9 -2 17
M. Vlasic 47 6 10 13 16
J. Sheppard 42 4 9 -2 13
A. Niemi 19 11 5 .912 2.57
A. Stalock 5 5 1 .905 2.65
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