SAN JOSE — For once, a coach didn’t play it coy when asked about his starting goaltender for a crucial playoff game.
San Jose Coach Todd McLellan, whose team has relinquished its 3-0 lead over the Kings and faces a Game 7 on Wednesday night at SAP Center, declared after the Sharks’ morning skate that Antti Niemi will be the starter. McLellan had chosen Alex Stalock to start Game 6, a 4-1 victory by the Kings on Monday at Staples Center.
McLellan, in essence, is going with the goalie principally responsible for the Sharks’ 111 points and second-place finish in the Pacific Division this season. At least, he’s hoping he’s getting that goalie and not the Niemi he has seen in the playoffs so far.
“I think the break was good for Nemo. He got a chance to work on some things in his game with the goaltending coaches,” McLellan said of Niemi, who had a 3.90 goals-against average and .882 save percentage in his first five appearances in the series.
“He got a little chance to rest. Our team needed a change heading into Game 6 in L.A. Unfortunately, we had to pull him twice and that wasn’t all on Nemo’s shoulders. It’s pretty evident and pretty obvious. I hope I’ve made that clear.
“But moving forward with Nemo, we want to give Nemo an opportunity. For us to win tonight, or for them to win, in that case, you’ll hear the clichés about it takes a full team, and obviously it will. I just think our core on our team has to step up. They were there early in the series. L.A.’s core has been there later in the series. Tonight’s the deciding game, and in my opinion, Nemo’s a very big part of that core, so they’re going to get their chance to perform in Game 7.”
The Kings will have their morning skate soon, and we’ll have a report on that.