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At the Rink blog

Red-hot Niemi helps Sharks chase seventh straight

Tuesday, 03.18.2014 / 5:19 PM

By Eric Gilmore - NHL.com Correspondent / 2013-2014 At the Rink Blog

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2013-2014 At the Rink Blog
Red-hot Niemi helps Sharks chase seventh straight

SAN JOSE -- Goaltender Antti Niemi, coming off a 1-0 shutout against the New York Rangers, will make his third straight start Tuesday night when the surging San Jose Sharks face the Florida Panthers at SAP Center.

The Sharks have won six straight games and Niemi has gone 5-0-0 during that stretch. He made 41 saves Sunday against the Rangers in arguably his best game of the season.

"It gives you lots of confidence, but it's a new game and you've got to refocus," Niemi said after the Sharks' morning skate.

"I've felt really good ever since the (Olympic) break. I feel very good in practice. I'm seeing the puck well. So I feel pretty good. It's a long season, so there's ups and downs, but overall I'm pretty happy where I'm at."

Backup goaltender Alex Stalock has kept the pressure on Niemi this season with his stellar play. Stalock is 11-4-1 with a 1.91 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage. He has two shutouts, including a 24-save, 3-0 victory against Florida on Jan. 16.

Niemi will start for the sixth time in San Jose's past seven games, but coach Todd McLellan said there's no guarantee he'll start Thursday night against the Anaheim Ducks or keep getting such a heavy workload approaching the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"We'll make decisions on a daily basis," McLellan said. "I can't tell you what we're going to do two days from now against Anaheim. A lot of that will depend on how the team is playing and how the goaltenders have played. Obviously we want (Niemi) to be sharp and ready to go, but we also want Alex in the same state when it's time. So we'll balance that out as we go, but we're not looking any further ahead than what we're doing today."

The Sharks and Ducks are tied atop the Pacific Division with 97 points, although Anaheim has a game in hand.

Sharks forward Raffi Torres took part in the morning skate, but will miss his fifth straight game. Torres, who made his season debut on Feb. 27, has played only five games this season after recovering from knee surgery. He hasn't played since March 8 against the Montreal Canadiens.

McLellan was asked if Torres came back too quickly.

"No, he didn't come back too early," McLellan said. "Just working through bumps and bruises and that type of stuff."

Defenseman Brad Stuart (upper body) skated with his teammates for the first time since before the Olympic break.

"Feeling pretty good," Stuart said. "I got to get into an actual practice, I think, to really see where I'm at."

Florida forward Garrett Wilson was recalled from San Antonio of the American Hockey League and will make his NHL debut against San Jose, taking the place of injured forward Jonathan Huberdeau (upper body) in the lineup. Huberdeau was hurt Sunday against the Vancouver Canucks and did not travel with the team to California.

"It's a dream come true, first NHL call-up," said Wilson, whose parents Andy and Joan traveled from Ontario to San Jose to attend the game. "I've been waiting for this my whole life. I just want to keep it simple here and play hard and keep doing what I do."

Wilson, a fourth-round pick (No. 107) in the 2009 NHL Draft, had 12 goals and 12 assists in 60 games for San Antonio.

"He's a big kid, he's physical, he's got some toughness," Panthers coach Peter Horachek said. "He's got decent hands. In junior he had 100 points. He just needed to be encouraged to move his feet a little more and spend time around the net."

Injured forward Sean Bergenheim (lower body) skated Tuesday morning and might play Thursday against the Phoenix Coyotes, Horachek said. There's also a chance forward Jesse Winchester (lower body) could join the team during its four-game road trip and see action.

Here are the projected lineups for the Panthers and Sharks:

PANTHERS

Scottie Upshall - Nick Bjugstad - Brad Boyes

Joey Crabb - Vincent Trocheck - Tomas Fleischmann

Quinton Howden - Brandon Pirri - Jimmy Hayes

Krys Barch - Scott Gomez - Garrett Wilson

Brian Campbell - Tom Gilbert

Dmitry Kulikov - Ed Jovanovski

Dylan Olsen - Colby Robak

Roberto Luongo

Dan Ellis

Injured: Jesse Winchester (lower body), Aleksander Barkov (lower body), Erik Gudbranson (lower body), Sean Bergenheim (lower body), Tomas Kopecky (upper body), Alex Petrovic (upper body), Jonathan Huberdeau (upper body)

SHARKS

Joe Pavelski - Joe Thornton - Brent Burns

Patrick Marleau - Logan Couture - Matt Nieto

Marty Havlat - James Sheppard - Tommy Wingels

Tyler Kennedy - Adam Burish - Andrew Desjardins

Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Jason Demers

Scott Hannan - Dan Boyle

Matt Irwin - Justin Braun

Antti Niemi

Alex Stalock

Scratched: Matt Tennyson, Mike Brown, Raffi Torres

Injured: Brad Stuart (upper body), Tomas Hertl (knee surgery)

Quote of the Day

The groove of being behind a bench is going to be interesting at first, but thank God we have a few exhibition games to get rid of those cobwebs. Overall the excitement of it all and the freshness and coming back refreshed, all those things are going to be assets. If [the players] come ready to give their best effort in practice and games, good things are going to happen. I'm always looking for results. It's not always on the scoreboard. It's winning and building something.

— Bryan Trottier on making his return to coaching as an assistant with the Sabres