If everything were to go perfect in the NHL postseason, there would always be the same 20 players dressing and playing. That theory simply isn’t reality. Coaches make decisions, players get injured and at some point, whether it’s the first round or the Stanley Cup Final, lineup changes occur.
The Sharks have had two such players thrust into the spotlight recently. Antero Niittymaki has twice filled in for Antti Niemi
when the Kings were able to find an early lead (Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan already quelled any potential goalie controversy by stating Niemi would start Game 6) and Jamie McGinn jumped in Ben Eager’s spot for Game 5. It’s possible neither will see a second of ice time Monday night, but they have shown they are ready if the call comes.
“They’re smart people, they understand that throughout a series and throughout the playoffs there are always going to be changes,” McLellan said.
McLellan has been appreciative of the efforts presented to him as it can be difficult jumping in at a moment’s notice.
“I give the most credit to Nitty,” McLellan said. “We’ve talked about this numerous times where he didn’t get (in the net) a lot down the stretch. He hasn’t had a lot of playing time. Yet, to come in and play under those circumstances, he’s done a really good job for our hockey team.”
McLellan had similar praise for McGinn who was a lineup regular for the season’s first half.
“Ginner did a good job for us last night,” McLellan said. “He was physical, he didn’t take any penalties. He created a little bit of momentum early in the game. We’ll expect him to continue to do that, as well as others if they are called upon.”
It was McGinn’s stint in last year’s playoffs that allowed McLellan to insert the forward despite lack of NHL time the second half of the season.
“We just felt we needed a change in that line. He had played in the playoffs before in some critical situations and handled that well, so we went that route,” McLellan said.
The role of sitting and waiting can be tedious, but it is completely worth the heavy practice sessions without a full team when the opportunity comes.
“You want to be prepared every day,” McGinn said. “You want to help the team win, you want to get in. Whenever you get that opportunity, you have to be ready to go.”
Those thrust into such roles don’t typically have all day to prep as Niittymaki can be called in at any point during a contest and McGinn didn’t know of his chance until pregame warmups were completed.
“Yesterday, I didn’t know until after warmups,” McGinn said. “You have to be ready every day.”
That unbridled enthusiasm that someone new sparks the lineup with has to be controlled with smart play.
“I played 15 games in the playoffs last year and it’s about keeping the nerves down and being calm,” McGinn said. “Once you step on the ice, be a bull and work real hard. I tried to create energy yesterday and throw the body around. Hopefully I’ll get the nod tomorrow. If I do, we’re going to try to get some more pucks to the pads and get some more zone time.”
Several Sharks regulars can harken back to the when they were game day decisions in the postseason. They include Patrick Marleau
and Devin Setoguchi.
“When you get that opportunity you want to do well,” Marleau said. “The two guys have done a good job of coming in and playing. You’re just excited to be in there and playing, it’s the way everybody should feel.”
“You never know. You’ve got to be ready, you’ve got to be on your toes,” Setoguchi said. “Guys have to be ready no matter what. Lines can change and roles can change. You’ve got to adapt.”
The Sharks are 2-0 when scoring the first goal in the current series and would like to push that mark to 3-0 in Game 6.
“It would be nice to score the first goal and go from there,” Captain Joe Thornton
said. “Tomorrow we’ll come out strong.”
If the Sharks are to close the series out in six games, the will have to do so on enemy ice. The good news is the Sharks have won both postseason games played in Staples Center.
“We’ve won a couple of games in their building so it will be nice to go in there and get another one,” Marleau noted.
“We had one opportunity we missed and we can’t really think about Game 7,” Dan Boyle
said. “We’ve got to finish these guys. Just play our game.”
The Sharks know Quick as the difference in Game 6, but they also know they can beat him.
“We scored six the previous two games, so we’ve solved the puzzle before,” Thornton said.
Game 6 will be at 7:30 on Monday and will be on CSN California, 98.5/102.1 KFOX and www.sjsharks.com.