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Niemi back in net when Sharks face Sabres

by Joe Yerdon

BUFFALO -- After the San Jose Sharks disposed of the Philadelphia Flyers 7-3 in Philadelphia on Thursday, No. 1 goalie Antti Niemi will make his first start since returning from the 2014 Sochi Olympics on Friday against the Buffalo Sabres.

"I feel good," Niemi said. "Rested, but still I was skating, short skates every day. I did some work, but it wasn't long practice, lots of games every day. I think it's good for my body and also for my mind. My mind got to rest, and other than that it was great experience being there."

Niemi, who didn't get into a game for Finland in Sochi, said he's ready for the push for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Sharks are five points behind the Anaheim Ducks for first place in the Pacific Division. The Sabres have won two straight since coming out of the Olympic break, and the Sharks know they can't get caught looking past the worst team in the League standings.

"The guys in this room are smart, they're veteran guys, and they know this time of season, these points, these games are huge games," Sharks forward Mike Brown said. "We can't take anyone lightly, especially down the stretch here."

The Sharks held a light optional skate with six skaters and two goalies participating.

The Sabres will again be without forward Tyler Ennis against the Sharks. He missed the game Wednesday with body soreness.

"He's pretty close but not close enough to play tonight," coach Ted Nolan said. "He's still day-to-day, but he's a lot better."

Nolan said center Zenon Konopka would re-enter the lineup after recovering from finger surgery during the Olympic break and John Scott would be scratched. Facing the Sharks presents tough matchups for the Sabres.

"They have a lot of skill, but there are guys that work pretty hard over there as well," Konopka said. "There are a few underrated guys like Logan Couture. He doesn't get a lot of media on the East Coast, but he's an elite player in the League right now. He's probably their best player. You think of [Patrick] Marleau, you think of [Brent] Burns, and [Joe] Thornton, but Couture is their best player. He's one special player and we're really going to have to be on the ball because they have a couple of lines that can hurt you."

Ryan Miller was the first Sabres goalie off at the morning skate and will get the start in what could be his final home game in Buffalo.

Sabres general manager Tim Murray has said the Sabres are looking to trade Miller to a contending team before the March 5 NHL Trade Deadline. Their next home game is March 9 against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Here are the projected lineups:


Joe PavelskiJoe ThorntonBrent Burns

Patrick MarleauLogan CoutureMartin Havlat

Matt NietoTommy WingelsAdam Burish

Raffi TorresAndrew DesjardinsMike Brown

Marc-Edouard VlasicDan Boyle

Matt IrwinJustin Braun

Jason DemersScott Hannan

Antti Niemi

Alex Stalock

Scratched: James Sheppard, Matt Tennyson

Injured: Tyler Kennedy (lower body), Tomas Hertl (knee), Brad Stuart (upper body)


Matt MoulsonVille LeinoDrew Stafford

Steve OttCody HodgsonMatt D'Agostini

Marcus FolignoZemgus GirgensonsBrian Flynn

Matt EllisZenon KonopkaCody McCormick

Tyler MyersHenrik Tallinder

Christian EhrhoffAlexander Sulzer

Jamie McBainMike Weber

Ryan Miller

Jhonas Enroth

Scratched: John Scott

Injured: Tyler Ennis (general body soreness)

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