The San Jose Sharks have been waiting quite a bit since eliminating the Vancouver Canucks in the first round of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs. They quickly dispatched of the no. 3 seed, sending the Canucks home with a sweep and yet another playoff disappointment.
That sets the Sharks up with a meeting with their division rivals, the Los Angeles Kings, in the Western Conference Semifinals. While there are several different aspects of this matchup to be explored, the most intriguing is the goaltending.
The Sharks will head into the series with Antti Niemi between the pipes, as he has been all year. He started 43 games for the Sharks in 2013, tied for the most in the league. In starting that many games during the shortened season, he posted the best numbers of his career.
Niemi finished the regular season with a .924 save percentage and a 2.16 goals-against average, each a career mark. His four shutouts on the year were just one shy of the league lead. That success has carried over into the postseason, as he completely shut down the Canucks offensive attack.
He finished that series with a terrific .937 save percentage and a 1.86 GAA. He allowed just eight goals in facing 126 shots in those four games. While there’s no doubt that he has been fantastic this year, there are some who might favor his counterpart, Jonathan Quick.
Quick is coming off of a year in which he was a Vezina Trophy finalist and a Conn Smythe Trophy winner. But he has struggled this year. He has looked better in the postseason, though, holding the St. Louis Blues to just 10 goals in six games.
If the Sharks are going to win this series, it could very well come down to the goaltending. If Niemi can maintain the play that he has demonstrated all season, this offensively challenged Kings team will have trouble finding wins in this series. If Niemi continues on this current pace, the Sharks will reach the Western Conference Finals.