The puck is supposed to stop here: At Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi's stick, glove and pads. Instead, he let three of six shots slip past him in the third period Sunday night, allowing the Detroit Red Wings to stave off elimination and score a 4-3 comeback victory in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals. Don't pin the blame on Niemi. Don't get off his bandwagon. A key reminder: He still hasn't lost a playoff series, going back to the previous round's dispatch of the Los Angeles Kings and last season's run to Lord Stanley's Cup for the Chicago Blackhawks. Here's more comfort food: Niemi also gave up four goals in a Game 5 home loss during last year's conference semifinals with Chicago, but he stopped 29 of 30 shots in a 5-1 road victory against Vancouver that sent the Blackhawks to a conference-finals date with the Sharks. Sunday's final 19 minutes were ruined by a combination of the Sharks' sloppy defense and foot-off-the-throttle offense. Also, in the give-credit-where-it's-due department, the Red Wings had a relentless attack. Playoff collapses are a Sharks trademark. They happen every postseason. They just aren't supposed to happen now that their goaltender is not named Evgeni Nabokov. Nabokov would be getting blamed unmercifully after a defeat such as Sunday's. But something seemed different this time, and maybe it's because there is a different guy in padded armor tending the Sharks' net. Niemi hasn't had a pristine postseason, but he's constantly bounced back, and for that the Sharks are well aware they need only one more win to advance to their second straight conference finals. After Game 5, Niemi pulled off his equipment and uniform without looking inconsolable. There was no black cloud hovering above him in the dressing room, no dirty looks from teammates as they conducted interviews. That said, Niemi is culpable to an extent, as the last line of defense. "Our collapse in the third period was a group effort, and he was part of it," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. " ".... He missed on the third goal, and it was a costly one. I'm not sure we gave verbal cues. There was hesitation, and the puck went in."
Niemi deserves some blame, but not all
San Jose Mercury News | May 9