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SAN JOSE – Antti Niemi said on Tuesday that he still doesn’t know if he’s going to be the man between the pipes for Thursday’s playoff opener against Los Angeles.
But, just like he has all season, he’ll prepare as if he’s getting the call.
"Either way, you've got to prepare yourself to be ready to play,” he said. “So, I do anything I would (normally do). Just like in the season. They don't always tell us early, but you just keep yourself ready and [prepare] on the ice like you were playing, even if you weren't."
The 30-year-old expects to find out some time on Wednesday.
"I would hope so,” he said, grinning. “There have been times that the goalies texted each other the night before. Like, 'Did they tell you? They didn't tell me.'"
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It’s a different situation for Niemi when compared to the previous three years, when there was no question he would be the guy between the pipes for the postseason. In the shortened 2013 campaign, Niemi was the Sharks’ most valuable player, earning himself a Vezina Trophy nomination in the process. Backup Thomas Greiss was never a threat to wrestle the starting job away.
This season, Alex Stlaock has significantly better numbers than Niemi, albeit with a smaller sample size, as Niemi started 64 of 82 games. Stalock is also skillful with the puck, acting almost as a third defenseman at times, aiding in the Sharks transitioning quickly from defense to offense.
"I've tried to do my job either way,” Niemi said. “I thought Greisser, as he's shown this year, is a real solid goalie. Al's been outstanding, as well. It kind of takes the pressure away because I know [Stalock] can do anything on the ice. But, still, I want to focus on myself, what I'm doing and how I'm feeling."
Niemi has been good against Los Angeles in his career, and made 26 saves in a 2-1 Sharks home win in the most recent meeting on April 3. He’s 7-1-0 in his career at SAP Center against Los Angeles, as the home teams have won 20 of the last 22 meetings, including playoffs.
Just like the rest of his teammates, he gets an extra kick out of playing San Jose’s biggest rival.
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“It's been, the whole season, a little different playing L.A. because we have faced them twice in the playoffs, and last year we lost to them,” Niemi said. “So, you always get a little extra energy against those guys."
Niemi and Stalock have been among the Sharks’ last players off of the ice for practice on Monday and Tuesday. Niemi seemed pleased with how things have gone with the second season on the horizon.
“I think it comes down to the small things, and I felt good today on the ice,” he said. “Saw the puck well. I think that's all that matters."