PHOENIX – Antti Niemi is getting a break.
The Sharks’ goaltender, who started 24 straight games and leads the NHL with 24 wins, will back up Thomas Greiss on Wednesday night in Phoenix.
“We’ve got to be able to win with Thomas in net,” Todd McLellan said. “Three games in four nights, back-to-back with a big game coming up in L.A., we’d like [Niemi] to be fresh. This will be Thomas’ chance to get one in here before playoffs.”
The Sharks conclude their season on Saturday against the Kings, in a game that could decide home ice in the first round of the playoffs.
Niemi said: “I think it’s just part of the bigger plan to get ready for the L.A. game, and for the playoffs. Now we have two days with no games, so I think it’s part of that, to get my body and mind to rest a bit.”
Niemi has started every game since his last night off on March 6 in Calgary, and has started 33 of the last 34 games overall. Greiss has played in just five games all season, with a 1-3-0 record, 2.64 goals-against average and .909 save percentage.
Is there a risk to playing the 27-year-old?
“No risk,” McLellan said. “We wouldn’t have Thomas here if we didn’t believe in what he could do. There’s risk the other way, too. We believe that Nemo has to be our guy in playoffs, and if I recall two years ago, we had to tap [backup Antero Niittymaki] more than once. He was given an opportunity to play down the stretch so that he would be ready, so that’s what the thought process is.”
In 2011, Niittymaki played in two games in the first round against Los Angeles, including Game 4 in which San Jose erased a 4-0 deficit to win.
Alex Stalock has been recalled from Worcester as the emergency goaltender, now that Worcester's season is over.
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James Sheppard will return to the lineup against the Coyotes, in place of Scott Gomez. Sheppard, who has a goal and three assists in 30 games, has been scratched for the last six games and seven of the last eight.