Wednesday, April 20, 2011

San Jose Sharks: Antero Niittymaki or Antti Niemi To Start Game 4?

How would you like to be San Jose Sharks coach Todd McLellan right now?

Okay, he's probably not the worst person to be right now, I mean, he is head coach of a team that came back from a 4-0 deficit to win 6-5 in overtime in the playoffs and take control of the series.

But how about the decision he has to make for Game 4 in Los Angeles on Thursday night?

Go with the goalie who has brought your team to the playoffs by playing practically the entire second half of the season, or the goalie who silenced the Kings on the Sharks' way to one of the greatest comebacks in NHL playoff history?

Antti Niemi or Antero Niittymaki?

There is really no right answer to the decision McLellan will have to make in the next 24 hours.

Here are the facts, though.

Niemi has not met the expectations that many had for him in the playoffs. He has seemed tired and slow in net. But he has been the rock for this team. The players feel comfortable with him in net, as shown by their second half surge up the Western Conference standings.

But is Niemi out of gas for these playoffs? Is he just not seeing the puck in these playoffs as he would in the regular season?

The playoffs are a different beast and we know players go harder in the playoffs than in the regular season. Is Niemi just not up for the challenge that is the playoffs?

The other side of the equation is Niittymaki's solid goaltending in the Sharks' comeback win in Game 3.

The only problem in starting Niittymaki for Game 4 is that he has proven nothing. He had been injured while Niemi put the Sharks on his back on their way to second place in the Western Conference.

But Niittymaki was the goalie that halted the barrage of goals from the Kings paving the way for a Game 3 win.

He is a breath of fresh air at the moment.

But is that all he is?

Niittymaki needs to be in net for Game 4.

He is rested and the Sharks seemed to have a sense of resurgence when he was in net.

He is something new at the moment and that may be the best thing for the Sharks right now.

If he does not pan out in Game 4, then insert Niemi back for Game 5. But at the moment, you must go with the hot goalie. Not that Niittymaki stopped everything in his path Tuesday night (made 10 of 11 saves), but he was in net for an epic Sharks win, and that's all that matters right now.

He is the face of the comeback for the Sharks and that changes the mindset of all the Sharks players.

Niemi wasn't cutting it in the playoffs so far, and the team wasn't cutting it when he was in net.

Niittymaki is the refreshing change of scenery for Game 4.

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